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Blind Date With A Book

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Stiles finished shading in the heart with the red sharpie. He snapped the cap back on as he admired his work, which was epic, if he did say so himself. He’d wrapped the new nonfiction book about art thieves in the same plain brown paper he used on all the books, and then drawn a man in a trench coat holding a painting of a heart on it that read “Allow me to steal your heart.” Along the bottom, in large block letters, Stiles had written NONFICTION.

He smiled and set it on the stack of books he kept near the register. The Blind Date with a Book trend was one Stiles had jumped on as soon as he’d caught wind of it on the internet. The bookstore he owned, A Novel Idea, was old and crowded and cozy, just like his mom had liked it, but Stiles thought the gimmick might drum up some business. The store was doing fine despite the rise of e-readers, but the extra bit of interest from the large sign reading Can’t find a date? Try a Blind Date with a Book! couldn’t hurt.

So far, Stiles had sold almost all the original books he’d set out, and many of the customers had come back for more.

Stiles was cataloguing a stack of donated used books on a Friday evening when he heard the bell on the front door jingle. He glanced up briefly, his eyes doing a double take as he looked closer at the man who just entered. He was absolutely gorgeous. Tall, dark hair and matching stubble, black-frame glasses, strong shoulders and muscles apparent even under the leather jacket. Stiles turned back to the stack of regency romances before the man caught him staring. He’d like not to scare away potential customers, especially ridiculously attractive ones.

The man spent fifteen minutes browsing through the shelves as Stiles continued entering the books into the system and rung up a few other customers. He was finishing up with a regular when the man strolled up to the register. Stiles’ eyes immediately drifted to the jeans hugging his long, lean legs. He awkwardly made himself look busy as the man stopped in front of the Blind Date stack.

Stiles watched out of the corner of his eyes as the man picked up each book, read the front, and then replaced it before picking up the next one. He finally set one down on the counter. Stiles lifted it and nodded.

“Historical fiction,” Stiles read off, “set on the frontier.” He grinned as he looked up at the man, who, oh my god wow, had the most unsettling and beautiful eyes Stiles had ever seen. He may have stared a little too long. The man raised his eyebrows, and Stiles shook out of his trance. He felt his cheeks flush as he turned to the register. “I wouldn’t have pegged you as a historical fiction kind of guy,” he said as he rung up the book.

“I like history,” the man said.

Stiles shook his head. “Oh yeah, no, history is great, like I love history, but just, I dunno, wouldn’t have picked this one for you out of all those, I guess.”

The man didn’t respond as he slid his debit card through the machine and punched in his PIN number. Stiles just stood there, looking everywhere but at the man, and trying not to drown in his embarrassment. After the card was accepted, Stiles handed the man his book with a smile. “Enjoy your date!”

The man didn’t say a word as he turned and walked out of the store. Stiles dropped his head to the wooden counter. Well, that was one customer he’d never seen again. And that was a shame, too. Stiles had been too humiliated to check out his ass as he left, and now he’d never have the chance.

*

Friday nights always made Stiles lonely. He watched the couples walking through the book shop, holding hands and discussing literature. He laughed at the people trying to impress their dates by spouting literary nonsense that sounded smart, and was impressed by the people who admitted to liking terrible books. His favorite conversations to listen to were the arguments people had over which book, genre, or writer was better. People got so irate over the smallest things, and Stiles just didn’t understand.

Stiles loved books. All books, every type of book he could lay his hands on. Had loved books ever since he was a little boy and his mother used to read to him before bed. Every night, without fail, she’d be beside him with a book. When he’d gotten old enough, she’d started bringing him to work at the shop with her, and he’d pick through the shelves in wonder, each book a new treasure to discover. He and his mom would spend the nights his dad worked the night shift or had to leave on a late call reading books together. When Stiles had gotten too old, they would read silently side by side, exchanging books so they could discuss what they’d already read as the other read it for the first time.

When his mom had gotten sick, he’d taken books to the hospital and read to her, her head on his shoulder as she listened to his voice and held his hand. After she died, he didn’t read a book that wasn’t required for two years. It was too painful to pick them up.

He was wrapping new Blind Date books and placing post-it notes with the titles on them when a customer approached the register, stopping right in front of the Blind Dates. Stiles glanced up casually and started in surprise. Hot guy was back. Instead of looking through all the descriptions though, the man just grabbed one from the back and sat it on the counter.

“Another blind date?” Stiles asked with a smile. “Space travel, time travel, satire,” he read off with a nod. “Sounds like my kind of book.” He rang it up as the man handed him cash. “Did you enjoy the last one?”

“Yes.”

“Good,” Stiles said, handing the man his change. “Let’s hope this one is as much of a success. Enjoy!” Stiles smiled at him as he turned around and left the shop. This time, Stiles made sure to stare at his ass, and he’s very glad he got that second chance.

*

“I don’t know why we don’t do this every Friday night,” Stiles said as he folded the brown paper over the copy of Cather in the Rye. “This is the best.”

“Usually, we have lives,” Isaac said, drawing a rather detailed scene on the cover of the YA paranormal romance he’d just finished wrapping. “Things to do on a Friday night.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Allison said, drawing flowers on the book she had wrapped. Stiles wasn’t sure how flowers connected to a biography on Al Capone, but he promised his friends they could wrap the books however they wanted if they helped. “He has been collecting books for your blind date thing for two weeks.”

Stiles looked over at Isaac in surprise, and Isaac stared intently down at his artistic scene. Stiles could see the faint blush across his cheeks.

“I think you three are doing a great job,” Scott said, sitting in the floor behind the counter with his back against the wall. He was finishing off the last of the Chinese take-out he’d brought for dinner. “I approve.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Scott, you are supposed to help wrap these books, not just eat all the Chinese food, which, thanks, by the way, not like I didn’t want some more. I’m starving, I never get to eat because all I do is work. I never see the sun, I never go on dates, and according to you three I don’t have a life, which explains why I never have sex – “Allison suddenly covered her mouth, stifling uncontrollable giggles. Stiles glanced over his shoulder, where there was a customer standing at the counter. And that customer was hot guy. Of course.

“Um, hi,” Stiles stammered, fumbling off his stool as he made for the cash register. Hot guy was just staring at him, looking annoyed. “Here for a date?” Hot guy’s eyebrows shot halfway up his forehead, and Stiles opened his mouth a few times, hoping that he would awaken any moment with a Chinese food hangover. “I mean, with a book. It’s Friday night and you’re holding a wrapped book, so I just assume that you don’t have a real date.” Somehow, the man’s eyebrows went even higher. “Not that you can’t find a date, because you have a mirror, so you know that you obviously can find a date, and just because you’re buying another blind date book doesn’t mean you don’t have an actual date, it’s just…” Stiles sighed. “Can I check you out?” When Scott, Allison, and Isaac all burst out laughing behind him, Stiles really wanted to die. And find new friends. He was pretty sure his face was the color of a tomato.

Hot guy shoved over the book he’d chosen this week, and yeah, he was pretty irritated. Stiles didn’t have to look at his face to know that; hot guy was making it pretty clear he was not impressed by Stiles’ rambling. Stiles looked anywhere but at his face as he keyed in the price. “Gritty memoir, huh?” he asked, unable to keep his mouth shut. What in the hell was wrong with him?

“Thought I’d go for something a bit different after science fiction last week,” hot guy explained as he handed over cash. Stiles looked up in surprise; it was the longest sentence hot guy had ever said to him.

“Well, um, enjoy,” Stiles said, giving the man back his change and the book.

At least his friends had the decency to wait until the guy was out the door before they burst into hysterical laughter again. Yeah, he really needed to find new friends.

*

Stiles always did inventory on Tuesdays. Tuesdays were dead. He used to close that day every week, but he needed a day to catch up on paperwork, clean, and sort through inventory, so he remained opened on the off chance that someone would wander in and be overcome with the urge to buy the new James Patterson.

Stiles had his iPod hooked up to the speakers this morning, playing his very soothing rock music instead of the dull instrumental he usually played during busier hours. He was shelving new children’s books when he heard the front bell jingle. He left the box and walked towards the front of the store.

“Morning,” Stiles called out cheerily as he turned the corner. He halted when he saw hot guy standing there in a tight fitting navy Henley and jeans. “H-hey,” Stiles said, going for cool and collected but coming out sounding like an idiot.

“I need a gift,” hot guy said. “For a four year old.”

“Your kid?” Stiles asked, seriously concerned for himself that the idea of this guy with a kid was a turn on. Who knew he’d be into DILFs?

The man looked horrified for a moment as he shook his head. “Niece.”

Stiles nodded, and waved the man back. “We just got a new shipment of books in for children. I’m sure we can find something.” Stiles led the way to the children’s section, then stopped and faced him. “What does she like?” The man looked lost. “Don’t you know? It’s your niece.”

“I don’t know,” the man said. “She’s always got new toys and telling me about TV shows, but I don’t know what they are.”

Stiles chuckled in sympathy. “Well, no fear…?”

“Derek,” the man said.

“I’m Stiles, by the way. So, Derek, we just got in some new educational books,” Stiles explained, pointing to a section of books, “and a few of the recent award winners.” Stiles pulled one off the shelf and handed it to Derek. “This one is about cockroaches, which isn’t nearly as disgusting as it sounds.”

“Cockroaches?” Derek wrinkled his nose as he shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

“No to the cockroaches,” Stiles said, putting the book on the back of the shelf. “Cockroaches are the future, man. When the bombs go off, they’re going to be the only ones left standing, and who’ll be laughing then? The cockroaches, that’s who. Not that a four year old would care. But in the book, the cockroaches dance, and wear little top hats!” Stiles grabbed another book off a high shelf. “How about this one?”

Derek seemed much more interested in this book, a book about a wolf cub that is part of a Pack of wolves in Alaska. He opened the book and flipped through it, his face growing softer and morphing into something akin to a smile as he scanned through the book. Stiles tried not to be too obvious with his staring, but he was completely enraptured by the way Derek barely smiled, the tiny change morphing his entire face into something Stiles was pretty sure he could look at all day long.

Derek lifted his head, the small smile reaching his eyes. “This is perfect.”

Stiles swallowed and scratched the back of his head nervously. “Yeah, awesome, great. Um, there are some games and puzzles over there, they have age suggestions on them, and as you can see there’s a section of toys. I’ll, um, just meet you up front when you’re ready?”

Derek came up to the counter five minutes later with the wolf book, an educational coloring book, and a plush penguin. As Stiles rung up his purchases, he said, “I’m, um, sorry about the other night. My friends and the date stuff, and just…yeah. I’m glad I didn’t scare you off and that you came back.”

Derek looked at him in confusion for a moment before it dawned on him what Stiles was talking about. “Don’t worry about it.”

Stiles smiled. As he bagged the items, he threw in a bookmark with a picture of a wolf on it. “For your niece.”

“No, let me pay – “

Stiles held up his hand. “It’s like, five bucks. Kids love bookmarks, more than adults, I think. When I was a kid, my mom used to get me new bookmarks all the time. I used to put them in everything, even tape them to my walls. Nothing was more exciting than when she surprised me with a new bookmark.” He smiled as he handed Derek the bag. Derek nodded in thanks and then headed out of the shop.

After Derek left, Stiles wondered where that random bit of information came from. He hadn’t talked about his mom’s bookmarks in a long time, didn’t even know if he had told Scott. He glanced at the wall, where there were posters, framed pictures of authors who’d done signings at the shop along with photos of events the shop held over the years. His eyes finally landed on a frame with a single bookmark in it.

*

Derek really loved his family, he did. They were loud and loving and wonderful. But they were also the nosiest, most obnoxious and conniving group of people he’d ever known.

“Hi, darling,” his mother said when Derek entered the kitchen for the family’s weekly dinner. She kissed his cheek as she stirred the pot of chili, his favorite.

“What did you do?” Derek asked, instantly suspicious as he eyed the chili.

Talia looked at him in innocent surprise, her eyebrows rising slightly. “Whatever do you mean?” He scowled, raising his own eyebrows to disbelieving proportions, and pointed to the pot on the stove. “I can’t make my son his favorite meal?”

“No.”

Talia sighed and set the spoon on the counter before turning towards him. She put her hands on his arms, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “Don’t be mad, but I was talking to Shelia Singletary at Rotary yesterday, and she mentioned her daughter just moved back to Beacon Hills and – “

“No.” Derek shook his head adamantly.

“Derek, you didn’t even let me finish.”

“You set me up on a blind date, didn’t you?” Talia looked sheepish, but nodded. Derek stepped out of her grasp and walked towards the refrigerator. “I’m not going.”

“Please, I told her you would. She said her daughter’s been very lonely since moving back. She lived in a big city – Chicago or New York or something – and is having difficulty adjusting to a small town.”

Derek turned and gave his mother a flat look. “Shelia Singletary’s daughter lived here until college.”

“Derek, please?” Talia pinned him with one of her signature pointed looks, and Derek tried to resist, but he could never resist his mother’s looks, and she knew this. Which was why she was doing it. She was playing dirty. “For me?”

Derek groaned and rolled his eyes. “Fine.”

Talia threw her arms around him, hugging him tight. “Thank you.”

“You know you’re an evil manipulator, right?” Derek asked against her hair as he returned the hug.

“Oh, I know.” She kissed his cheek then grinned at him. “How else do you raise five kids?” Derek just sighed heavily as he walked out of the kitchen.

He must have still been scowling at the world when he entered the living room, because Laura immediately said, “Mom must have told you.”

“You knew?” Derek asked, dropping onto the couch beside his brother. Connor punched him affectionately and Derek retaliated by punching his thigh.

“Yeah, Mom told me yesterday,” Laura said.

“I knew, too,” Cora added from where she was lounging in an armchair, legs draped over one of the arms, flipping through a trashy celebrity gossip rag. Derek just rolled his eyes.

“It’s a good thing,” Laura said. “You need to get back out there one day.”

“I don’t want to get back out there,” Derek growled.

“This we know,” their youngest brother, Josh, said from Laura’s other side.

“Derek, it’s been years.”

He glared at all four of his siblings, though Cora was paying more attention to her magazine than the conversation. “I don’t meddle in your love lives, so stay out of mine.”

“What love life?” Cora muttered from the chair. Derek crossed his arms over his chest and frowned at the wall.

Thankfully, he was saved from further torment when his niece came running into the room. “Uncle Derek!” she exclaimed, crashing into his legs.

“Careful, Sally,” Derek said as Sally started crawling onto the couch, unaffected. She plopped into his lap and grinned up at him, her dark hair falling into her eyes.

“It’s my birthday,” Sally beamed up at him.

“Your birthday was two days ago, silly,” Connor said, grabbing her foot and wiggling it.

“I know that, Daddy,” she huffed. “But we’re celebrating tonight!”

“I have you a present,” Derek told her before showering her face with kisses.

“Really?” Sally exclaimed. “Can I open it now? Please, please, PLEASE?”

“Ask your dad,” Derek told her.

Sally turned her big eyes to Connor and pushed her lip out in a pout. She clasped her hands beneath her chin. “Please, please, please, Daddy!! I’ve been a good girl. And I’m four now.” She held out her hands with three fingers extended. Derek gently pulled up her pinky, too.

Connor rolled his eyes, his head following. “Fine. If Uncle Derek doesn’t mind.”

Derek picked Sally up and draped her over his shoulder as he walked towards the kitchen where he left the gifts beside his keys and cell phone. Sally was squealing in delight and hitting Derek’s back with her hands as he carried her.

“Okay, Sally,” Derek said, carefully dropping her to her feet. She bounced excitedly as Derek handed her the bag. “Happy birthday.”

She tore into the bag, not paying any attention to the design on the bag Derek spent fifteen minutes picking out, or the tissue paper he arranged so carefully on top. She shouted as she pulled out the penguin and hugged it to her tightly, then continued yelling excitedly at the coloring book and the book. She shoved the book in Derek’s face. “It’s wolves! Like the ones you took me to see!”

“That’s right,” Derek said, opening the book and flipping through it. He pointed to a few pictures as Sally told him what she remembered from when they visited the wolf sanctuary.

“When can we go back?” Sally asked as she turned a page.

“One day,” Derek said. “I’ll take you.” He reached into the bag and pulled out the bookmark. “Hey, you forgot something.”

Sally’s eyes got really big and she squealed when she saw the bookmark. “A wolf! I love it!” She threw her arms around Derek and hugged him tightly, then gave him a wet kiss on the cheek. “Thank you.” She turned and went running through the house. “Grandma! Mom! Dad! Look at my wolf book and my wolf bookmark!” Derek grinned as he grabbed the coloring book and penguin and followed her into the living room.

*

Just as promised, Derek met Shelia Singletary’s daughter for dinner Friday night. He put on nice jeans, the Henley Laura always said was his “chick magnet” shirt because of the way it pulled over his chest and arms (though Derek just thought it looked like a shirt), and even wore a dab of the cologne Connor had bought him for Christmas. His mother couldn’t say he didn’t try.

Shelia Singletary’s daughter was named Jessica, and she was a very attractive, very sweet woman. Conversation was pleasant enough, but Derek found himself paying more attention to his risotto than her.

“Your mother said you’re a park ranger?” Jessica asked halfway through dinner. Derek knew she was desperately trying to get him to talk, and he knew he was being rude. It wasn’t Jessica’s fault that his mom was a meddling pain in his ass.

Derek looked at Jessica, and he felt bad. She looked genuinely interested, and he was being an asshole. He smiled and nodded. “Yes, sort of.” Jessica smiled encouragingly, so he kept talking. “I’m an OHV Forestry Technician, which means I maintain and oversee the Off Highway Vehicle trails, among other various duties.”

“So, you like, fix hiking trails?” she asked.

“More or less.”

“I love hiking,” Jessica said, and Derek forced himself to hold his smile and nod, even though he really wanted to beat his head against the wall. He really, really hated first dates.

The rest of dinner was pleasant enough, though Jessica talked about hiking – or more like walking a mile through a park – but she was nice enough. Derek paid for dinner, and afterwards, he walked Jessica to her car.

“I had a great time,” Jessica said hopefully, and Derek decided he was going to kill his mother.

“Me, too,” Derek nodded. He didn’t move in to kiss or even hug her, so they stood there awkwardly for a moment, not saying anything.

Finally, Jessica said, “Well, hopefully I’ll see you around!”

“Yeah, same.” Derek waved as Jessica got into her car, and then breathed a sigh of relief as he turned on his heel and quickly walked towards his car. Thank god that was over.

Inside his car, he glanced at the clock and realized it was just after eight p.m. Whoops? That dinner felt so much longer, and it felt so much later. He guessed he wasn’t going out with Jessica again. He should feel bad about that, but he only felt relieved.

Derek didn’t want to date. He was happy being single. He didn’t understand why people found that concept so hard to believe. People said all the time, “You need to get out there” or “Why are you wasting your life away?” or even “You’re getting old; you should get busy.”

He didn’t feel he was wasting his life. He had a career he loved and spent almost every day outside surrounded by nature. He had a huge family and friends that he loved, so he wasn’t alone. He even had a niece he adored and doted on way too much. He had hobbies and interests and a house and everything he needed.

Sure, sometimes he got horny and missed sex. He even hooked up randomly sometimes so he could just fuck and be done with it. But he didn’t want a relationship. His last relationship had been in college. He’d been in love with Paige, and he thought he might marry her one day. But she went to grad school in another part of the country, and he went to work for the forestry service, and they’d broken up. It had crushed him, but that was a long time ago. He’d dated a few times since then, a few men and women longer than others, but no one had been worth wasting his time. Most of the time, he’d rather be outside, curled on his couch with a book, or with his family than with the people he’d dated. So, he’d just lost interest in trying. And there was nothing wrong with that, or with being content with where his life was.

And he was content where he was. Derek liked his life. He was happy, fulfilled, and not interested in finding someone. If the right person came along, then sure, he’d be open to falling in love again. But trying to force himself into a relationship just because some people (like his damn family) thought he needed someone? It wasn’t what he wanted.

Which was why he was on his way to the bookstore, on a Friday night, to purchase a blind date with a book. He parked right in front of the bookstore, walked inside, and headed straight for the display set up in front of the counter.

He picked up one of the wrapped books, glanced at the words on the cover, and put it down before doing the same thing again. He read every brown cover, frowning in aggravation at the ones with flowers drawn on the paper that had nothing to do with the synopsis.

He stared at the display, unable to decide.

“Dude, what did that display ever do to you?” Derek glanced towards the voice. The owner of the store, Derek forgot his name, was watching him with amusement. “You’re glaring at those books like you’re plotting their deaths.”

Derek realized he was glaring, his arms crossed tightly over his chest. He rolled his eyes and sighed, releasing his arms and trying to lessen the tension in his body. “Pick one.”

“Huh?” the guy uttered.

Derek rolled his eyes again and gestured at the display. “Pick a book. I don’t care.”

The guy scoffed, offended. “Is that any way to talk about your date?” Derek looked at him like he was stupid, and the guy flushed. It was actually kind of endearing. The guy waved his hands around. “Bookstore date humor. Um…” He reached over the counter and just grabbed one blindly. “How about this? Venice, 1940s. Poignant. Love overpowers reason.” He glanced at Derek. “Not sure it’s your thing.”

Derek scowled. “Why do you say that?”

“Uh…”

“I have no problem with love stories,” Derek said with a sigh. “I just have a problem with blind dates.”

“You do realize this is a blind date with a book.” Derek rolled his eyes. The guy put his hands up in surrender. “Okay, so love story, and dude, Venice. Plus, it has a colonel and a countess. Major plusses.”

“It’s gotta be better than the blind date I just went on,” Derek muttered.

The guy shot him a sympathetic look. “That sucks. Blind dates are brutal. Though, I wouldn’t know much about that because I haven’t been on a date in forever.”

“Lucky you,” Derek said.

Derek stepped over to the register and pulled out his wallet. As he handed over the cash to pay, the guy asked, “Oh! By the way, how did your niece like the gifts?”

Derek glanced at him, surprised he remembered. “She loved them.”

“Did she like the bookmark?” he asked.

“Actually, she did. She showed it to everyone, then placed it in the wolf book for, as she said, safe keeping.”

The guy’s face broke out into a wide smile. “Knew it. Kids love the bookmarks.”

“Yeah, thanks…” Derek tried to remember his name, but couldn’t pull anything up. “You told me your name, but I can’t remember.”

The guy shook his head, still smiling. “It’s cool. Stiles.”

“Derek.”

“You told me last time,” Stiles told him, which made Derek feel kind of like an ass.

“Sorry.”

Stiles shrugged and handed over his book. “Don’t worry about it. You’ve been stressed about your blind date.”

“You have no idea,” Derek muttered.

“Well, hopefully this book will cheer you up.”

Derek nodded as he took the bag. “Thanks. See you later.”

“Have a great night, Derek!” Stiles gave him a small wave, and Derek smiled. It surprised him, and he quickly turned and rushed out of the store, book clutched in his hand.

*

The next Friday night, Stiles had the new Grimes album streaming through the speakers, a delicious cup of caramel coffee, and an old, worn Agatha Christie mystery he hadn’t read. He was sitting behind the counter, leaning back in a chair with his feet up on a stool, but he kept getting distracted by the two people on a date sitting at a table by the window. He tried to concentrate on his book, but it was too loud (and hilarious, to be honest) to ignore.

“Hard at work, I see.”

Stiles was so startled by the sound of the voice that he almost fell off the chair. He flailed his arms around, trying to balance himself and not fall off. When he was resettled, he glanced up to find Derek laughing at him.

“Not cool, man.”

“Well, I didn’t think that speaking to you would have that effect.”

“You should warn someone,” Stiles huffed as he stood up. His face was burning because of course, he made a complete ass of himself in front of Derek. Derek just smirked, an eyebrow raised in amusement.

Derek placed a wrapped book on the counter. Stiles scanned his eyes over Derek and noticed the dark jeans, the nice Henley, and the leather jacket. He glanced at the clock, which read 8:36. “Another blind date?”

Derek’s grin faded. “How did you know?”

Stiles flicked his hand towards Derek. “Well, it’s Friday night, similar outfit as last time, and it’s 8:30. You finished dinner, but didn’t do anything afterwards.”

“Am I that predictable?” Derek asked.

Stiles shrugged. “Two is just a coincidence. Next week will make three, and my dad always said three is a pattern.”

Derek ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “Last week it was my mom. This week, my sister. They’ve made some collective mission to get me to date. I wish they’d just accept I don’t want to date, and that I’m perfectly happy as I am.”

“Have you told them this?” Stiles asked.

“Only a thousand times.”

“Sucks, dude.” As Derek was running his debit card through the machine, Stiles overheard the couple by the table again. He leaned close to Derek’s ear and whispered, “Hey, table by the window is on an awkward first date. It’s hilarious.”

Derek turned and gave Stiles a flat look. Stiles was momentarily stunned by how close they were. He could see the gold flecks in Derek’s eyes and smell the cologne he was wearing, even see the overhead lights reflecting off Derek’s glasses. It made him want to rub his face all over Derek’s neck, and well, that was just weird.

He pulled back and said, “I’m serious. The guy is explaining how to scuba dive to this girl, and grabbed three books from the shelf to show her. She’s trying really hard to feign interest, but she keeps checking her phone. Before this, he was bragging about his exes.” Stiles points to a nearby worn armchair. “You should read your book there and listen to them. I can’t concentrate on my own book because it’s like reality TV. Quality entertainment for the dating-jaded.”

Derek frowned. “That’s just dumb.”

Stiles shrugged and handed Derek his wrapped book. “Suit yourself. Enjoy your blind date with a book about taxidermy and puppetry.”

Derek snatched the book. “You can’t judge me. You’re the one who chose it.”

“I choose a lot of books, dude. I haven’t read them all.”

Derek glared before walking over to the armchair and sitting down, annoyed. Stiles snickered to himself, and Derek turned to glare at him. Stiles just grinned, sat down on his stool, and kicked his feet up.

Scuba guy continued to amuse Stiles, so between that and exchanging looks with Derek who was also listening to the date, he didn’t get much reading accomplished. When Scuba guy and his date left, without buying anything either, the assholes, Stiles looked at Derek and burst out laughing. He counted it a personal victory when Derek quietly laughed, too.

“Okay, I concede,” Derek said. “That was pretty entertaining.”

“I’m always right,” Stiles responded. “You should always listen to me.”

Derek rolled his eyes, but he looked more amused than irritated. “Makes my dates look dull and pedestrian in comparison.”

“Maybe now I can read my book in peace.”

He turned back to his book and switched between reading about Hercule Poirot and paying attention to the music playing in the store. When ten o’clock rolled around, Derek was still there. He was slouched down comfortably in the armchair, his leather jacket draped over his legs like a blanket, reading. Stiles hated to disturb him.

“Time to go home,” Stiles said as he stood up from the stool, placing his hands on his lower back and arching into a stretch. Derek looked at him, then at his phone.

“Oh, shit! Sorry, I didn’t mean to stay so long.” Derek slid his fingers beneath his glasses to rub his eyes before getting up from the chair and yawning. He dropped his book into the seat and shrugged on his jacket.

“It’s cool,” Stiles said. “Looked like you were really into your book.”

“It’s really good,” Derek said, walking towards the counter as Stiles grabbed his messenger bag and draped it over his head.

“Better than your date?” Stiles asked with a grin.

Derek huffed. “Anything is better than my date.”

“That bad, huh? Who did your sister set you up with?”

“A guy from work,” he replied. “Last week, it was one of my mom’s friend’s daughters.”

“Next week, who knows!” Stiles exclaimed, wiggling his fingers.

“I’m already dreading it.”

“I’ll make sure to have plenty of books ready for you,” Stiles said as he shut off the lights.

“Thanks,” Derek said as he followed Stiles outside of the store. “It’s the highlight of my night.”

Stiles grinned as he locked the store. “Awesome. Well, not awesome about your shitty blind dates, but awesome that my bookstore is the highlight of your night.”

“That’s the pathetic depths I’ve been lowered to.”

“Hey! I’m not the one running from blind dates,” Stiles retorted.

Derek laughed as he walked, then glanced over his shoulder when Stiles wasn’t beside him. Stiles pointed up. “I live here, above the store. See?” Stiles pointed to the large, floor-to-ceiling windows lining the second story. “That’s my living room.”

“You live above the store?” Derek asked. “That’s kinda neat.”

“Cuts down on my commute time,” Stiles replied, and mentally facepalmed because, really? How was he so lame?

“Well, good night, Stiles.”

“Night.” Stiles waved as he watched Derek cross the street and unlock a sleek black Camaro. As he fumbled with his keys to unlock his door, he glanced over his shoulder to see Derek speeding away and realized he had the biggest crush on him possible. He dropped his head against the door and groaned aloud.

*

On Tuesday night, Stiles was talking to a regular patron at the counter when he saw Derek approach the blind date with a book display. He was surprised; Derek never came in on week nights. But he was wearing his typical date clothes and was scowling unhappily at the books, so Stiles figured he just left another bad blind date.

Stiles tried to stay interested in talking to the guy about recent high concept fantasy, but he kept glancing at Derek. “You should start a board game night here,” the guy, Dave, said. He was leaning forward with both elbows on the counter, a stack of purchased books by his arms.

“I’ve thought about that,” Stiles said. “But I wasn’t sure if people would be interested.”

“I’d definitely be interested,” Dave said. “We could play Settlers of Catan. Have you ever played that?”

Stiles rolled his eyes and laughed. “Come on. Dude, I own a book shop, I just spent ten minutes talking fantasy novels with you, and I have a huge collection of pop figs on display.” Stiles waved his arm towards the shelves on the wall with rows and rows of pop figs. “Of course I’ve played Catan. Catan is the best.”

“We should play sometime then.”

“Sure,” Stiles responded. “I’ll come up with a board game night and post it on Facebook.”

Dave grabbed his books and shot Stiles a smile. “Definitely let me know when,” he said. “I’ll bring all my expansions.”

“Okay, cool.” Stiles waved goodbye. “See you later, Dave.”

Before Dave could even say farewell, Stiles had turned towards Derek, and was surprised to find Derek watching him and smiling in amusement. “What?”

“That guy was totally chatting you up.” Derek came around the blind date with a book display and leaned one elbow against the counter.

Stiles glanced towards the door, then back at Derek. “Dave? No.” He shook his head. “Dave’s just this dude who’s into geek stuff like me.”

“Oh, Dave’s into you,” Derek said. “Believe me.”

Stiles narrowed his eyes. “Were you eavesdropping?”

Derek shrugged and grinned. “Maybe. Though, I’ve never seen someone use board games as a come on before.”

“It’s a good come on for me, believe me,” Stiles said, laughing. “I love board games.”

“Dave sure thought so.”

“Though, come on,” Stiles groaned and brandished his hands around. “Do I play Catan? That’s like asking if I’ve read Lord of the Rings or seen the new Star Wars movie.”

“I didn’t know you were a snob,” Derek teased.

Stiles scoffed. “I’m not a snob, but come on, pick a game that hasn’t been featured on the Big Bang Theory or sold at Target. Trying to impress me with Catan and his expansions? Pfft. Please.”

“Oh, I think he was more interested in your expansions,” Derek retorted. Stiles stared at him, open-mouthed, and Derek’s facial expression didn’t even twitch. Stiles bent over the counter and burst out laughing. He laughed so hard his entire body shook and tears started leaking out of his eyes.

“Oh my god,” Stiles breathed after a few minutes, when he was finally able to control himself. Derek was watching him, a small smile around his mouth. “I can’t believe you said that, Derek. I never would have pegged you as the type.”

“What type?”

Stiles shrugged. “To make board game-related innuendos.”

“Hey, I like board games.”

Stiles looked at his dubiously. “Let me guess. Monopoly, Clue, Trivial Pursuit?”

“What’s wrong with those games?” Derek asked.

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Nothing. I love Clue, and I kill at Trivial Pursuit.”

“My sister really likes Pandemic, and my brother likes Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Carcassonne, and Agricola. I really like Ticket to Ride, but I don’t think that counts since they sell it in Target.”

Stiles gaped at Derek, and Derek, the dick, just stood there, looking smug. “I’m so turned on right now,” Stiles said. “I think you need to give Dave lessons on how to use board games as a come on.” Stiles may have been mistaken, but he’s pretty sure Derek blushed.

They stood there in awkward silence until Stiles cleared his throat obviously and said, “So, how did blind date number three go?”

Derek rolled his eyes. “Fucking sucked.”

“Who was it this time?”

“My brother’s wife’s cousin. He was perhaps the most boring person I’ve ever met in my entire life. I envy your night talking to Dave.”

Stiles laughed and said, “Maybe I’ll set you and Dave up on a blind date. You seem more interested in him than me.”

“Oh god, please don’t. I like you and your shop. I’d hate to have to kill you and hide the body.” Derek was smiling, his body language loose and easy, and Stiles couldn’t help but focus on that and the fact that Derek just said he liked him.

“Sure you don’t want to be set up with Dave? Might be better than that book you’re holding.”

“I think you should go out with Dave,” Derek said, placing the book on the counter.

Stiles shook his head as he rung up Derek’s book. “Nope. Think I’ll pass.”

“Guess you’ll just have to find someone else to play board games with,” Derek said as he handed over the cash. “Dave will be so disappointed. He definitely wanted to play board games with you.” Derek waggled his eyebrows and Stiles groaned.

“That was so bad, Derek. So bad,” he laughed as he handed Derek the receipt. “I’m still gonna start a game night, though. That was a good idea.”

“It does sound like fun,” Derek says as he grabs his book. “Good night.”

“Night, Derek.”

*

Friday evening, Stiles was setting up a new display of books when the bell tinkled on the door. He lifted his head to greet the customer and found Derek heading towards the blind date with a book display. Stiles glanced at the clock on the wall; it was just 6:30.

“Little early for your date to be over, isn’t it?” Stiles asked as he walked over to where Derek stood.

“Haven’t gone on the date yet,” Derek said irritably. “I don’t want to go on this stupid date.” He slammed down the wrapped book he was holding and knocked down three others on display. Stiles flinched and made an abortive movement to right the books. “I’m meeting her at the restaurant down the street in like half an hour. There’s a forty-five minute wait already, so I put my name down and came down here.”

“With the purpose of destroying my displays?” Stiles asked. Derek glared at him, and Stiles finally couldn’t stand it anymore and pushed in beside Derek and righted the books. He was so close that he was pressing against Derek’s side, could feel the warmth of his body heat and hear Derek huffing angrily. When he turned to right a book near the edge, he caught a whiff of Derek’s cologne and turned into it, bringing him dangerously close to Derek’s jaw and neck.

Stiles quickly stepped away and tried to calm his pounding heart. He felt tingly all over and his blood was rushing in his ears. Damn, what was it about this guy? Stiles felt the full force of his crush in a way he hadn’t in years.

As he tried to get a hold on himself, he realized Derek was saying something. “Huh?”

“I said it’s the second blind date this week. I think my family is just torturing me at this point.”

“So, don’t go on the date,” Stiles said with a shrug.

“My sister will kill me,” Derek said miserably.

“Then go sit through another insufferable blind date,” Stiles said as he walked back over to the display he’d been working on. “Either suck it up and go on the date, or do what you want and cancel the date. Just because your family sets you up on these things doesn’t mean you have to go.”

Derek dropped into the worn armchair with a sigh. “I know they mean well, but my idea of being happy isn’t theirs.”

Stiles left the display and went over to sit in the armchair facing Derek’s. “What’s your idea of being happy?”

Derek shrugged. “What I’m doing. I don’t need a relationship to validate my life, you know? I love my job and look forward to going to work every day. I have a great family, who I spend a lot of time with. I have good friends. I don’t really feel like I’m missing anything.”

“Sex,” Stiles blurted, and immediately blushed.

Derek rolled his eyes. “You sound like my brother. One night stands are pretty good for that.”

“If I only had the time,” Stiles laughed, and Derek gave him a wry smile.

“Plus, sex isn’t everything,” Derek said. “My family thinks I need to be settled with a husband or a wife. My brother and sister are both blissfully married, my other sister a serial relationship hopper, and my younger brother has a long-term girlfriend. They all look at me like the freak because I don’t date and haven’t had a relationship in a long time. Sure, I eventually want to fall in love and get married, but it’s not a priority right now. If I meet the right person, great. But trying to force it through these blind dates is ridiculous.”

“I get it,” Stiles said. “I don’t really have a lot of time to date because of the store. Besides, dating is such a pain in the ass.”

“Tell me about it,” Derek agreed. He pulled his phone from his pocket and stared at it thoughtfully before swiping his thumb across the screen. “I’m doing it. I’m cancelling on her.”

“Good for you,” Stiles nodded. He returned to the display he’d been working on to give Derek some privacy. Derek stayed in the armchair, staring at his phone for awhile. Stiles didn’t bother him. He returned to the counter to ring up a few customers, and when he finished with the short rush that had come into the store, Derek came up to the counter.

“I can’t believe I cancelled on her,” he said. “And like fifteen minutes before we were supposed to meet.”

Stiles shrugged. “You’re never gonna see her again. Does it matter?”

“Guess not. I still feel like a dick, though.” Derek drummed his knuckles against the counter and pointed behind Stiles. “So, you’re really gonna do it?”

Stiles turned around, then smiled when he saw the stack of board games. “Yeah, I rounded up some of mine I didn’t mind losing if someone lost parts or stole them. I also hit a few thrift stores to buy some. It’s not the best selection yet, but it’s a start.”

“We should play,” Derek stated.

Stiles just stared at him. “Now?”

Derek shrugged. “Why not? I mean, unless you don’t feel comfortable playing while the store is open.”

Stiles kind of spluttered, then with a flourish of his hand said, “Yeah, okay. I never say no to board games.”

Derek went over to arrange two chairs and a table close to the register, and Stiles grabbed a game suitable for two players. “I really kinda wanted to play Catan with you just because,” Stiles said as he set the box down on the table, “but can’t really do that with two people. Plus, you said you liked Ticket to Ride, so…”

“Not too pedestrian for you?” Derek asked as he shrugged out of his leather jacket.

Stiles huffed as he opened the box and started setting up the game. “I said I didn’t mind any board game. Just the way Dave used Catan.” As Stiles tossed Derek the plastic bag full of black trains, he said, “You know, maybe it was just Dave.” Derek chuckled.

Stiles put on a playlist from his phone to stream through the store’s speakers while Derek decided which route cards he wanted. Stiles had already chosen his; he was easy. Apparently, Derek liked to study the board and look and relook at his cards before choosing.

“Oh my god,” Stiles groaned after a few more minutes. “I’m ossifying over here. Just choose a route. It’s not that serious.”

Derek glowered at Stiles, and Stiles made a face at him. “Says the man who made fun of Catan Dave.”

“It doesn’t take me half a day to decide on a route. I can connect dots in my head.” Stiles tapped the side of his temple, shot Derek a crooked grin, and winked.

Derek huffed, chose three cards, and tossed the other two at Stiles. “Fine. Go, you impatient ass.”

“At least I’m not hiding from a blind date,” Stiles said as he took a locomotive card off the board.

Derek gave him a pinched, sarcastic fake smile before snatching up a blue train card. “Haha. You think you’re so cute, don’t you?”

“Oh, I know I’m cute,” Stiles said, waggling his eyebrows. “I’ve been told many times.”

“Cute, and an obnoxious pain in my ass,” Derek said as Stiles drew a card. Stiles tried not to let the grin at being called cute split his face.

They played in relative silence, Stiles singing along to the songs on the playlist. They had to put the game on hold a few times when Stiles got a customer, but the night was pretty quiet. Rain was pouring outside the window, so it kept most of the usual date crowd away. Stiles didn’t really mind too much.

“Yes!” Stiles exclaimed, slapping down four matching train cards to place his last remaining trains. “Boo-yah! In yo’ face!” Stiles flicked his wrist, pointing his finger at Derek. “Game over!”

“You’re so lame!” Derek rolled his eyes.

“Please, you’re just mad because you didn’t finish your route from Edinburgh to Athina.”

Derek narrowed his eyes at him. “How did you know that was my route?”

This time, it was Stiles’ turn to roll his eyes. “Dude, there’s only like six long routes in the game. You have two legs left to connect. I’m not an idiot.”

“I would have connected it if I didn’t have to go around the world!” Derek exclaimed. He pointed to the middle of the board. “You took every damn route through the middle of Europe! How in the hell did you need every road leading out of Wien?”

“Connecting my routes, dude. Longest route belongs to me.”

Derek huffed angrily and tossed his destination cards onto the board. “No sense in even counting the points. I went back twenty-one.” He leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms over his chest, and scowled.

“I win, because clearly I’m superior.” Stiles started putting the game pieces away, and Derek looked at him, eyebrows pinched together.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like? Cleaning up.” He glanced at Derek’s face and said, “Why? Did you want to play again?”

“Of course I want to play again!” Derek replied angrily.

“But you – “

“I just don’t like losing,” Derek interrupted. “Now I’m gonna kick your ass.”

“Doubtful,” Stiles said, shuffling the cards as Derek wiped all the trains off the board.

*

Derek was having fun. He couldn’t remember the last time he had this much fun on a Friday night. Definitely not lately, with all the horrible dates he’d been forced to go on.

He felt bad cancelling on Tracy (or Stacy or Lacy or Macy – he couldn’t remember, just knew it was something like that), but it was raining, the wait for the overpriced restaurant down the street was too long, and he’d already been on one date this week. He didn’t want to sit through another. And now he was really glad he cancelled. He was having a blast playing games with Stiles, even if Stiles did win that first game and gloat obnoxiously.

As they set up the table for a second game, Stiles asked, “Do you want to order take-out? I’m starving.”

Derek glanced at the time on his phone and realized it was almost eight. “Sure. Want to split a pizza or something?” Stiles nodded, then ordered delivery from the place down the street.

They played until the pizza arrived, and gave the delivery guy a big tip since he was dripping wet from the rain. Stiles pulled another table between two armchairs, and they ate there so as not to mess up the game board.

“So much better than an awkward overpriced dinner,” Derek said. “And cheaper, too.”

Stiles grinned. “I’m a cheap date, what can I say?” Derek rolled his eyes and took another bite of his pizza. “Did you pay for all the meals?”

“Two of them,” Derek said. “The guy from last Friday split it fifty-fifty. The highlight of the evening. I didn’t want to pay for the guy on Tuesday. He was an obnoxious asshole.”

“Why did you pay then?” Stiles asked, holding a string of cheese still connected to his pizza above his mouth and then dropping it in.

Derek adjusted his glasses. “He didn’t offer, and it was awkward, and…”

“Who says he shouldn’t have paid for your dinner?” Stiles asked.

Derek shrugged. “At least I don’t have to worry about it tonight.” Derek smiled, and Stiles returned it before shoving a huge bite of food into his mouth.

“I can make this more like your usual speed,” Stiles said. He sat up, started fidgeting with his hair and shirt, and then said, “Um, so…what are your hobbies?”

Derek laughed and rolled his eyes. “Thanks. Now this feels like a Friday night.”

Stiles laughed, but said, “I’m kinda serious, though. I know like nothing about you, except you go on blind dates your family forces you into and you buy blind dates with a book. Why do you come here after your dates?”

“I like to read,” Derek stated, looking at Stiles like he was an idiot.

Stiles rolled his eyes. “I got that, genius. I mean, why after every blind date?”

“I came in some before I started going on the blind dates,” Derek said. “It helps me unwind and get my mind off the dates. Plus, I like the concept. Buying a book I’m unfamiliar with, then getting a surprise. Helps me stay out of reading ruts and opens me to things I’d never read otherwise.”

“Maybe I’ll start picking books for you,” Stiles said as he picked a black olive off his slice. “I’ll decorate them and set them aside for your bad blind dates.”

Derek chuckled and grabbed another slice. “You do that.”

“Oh, I will.”

“I have no doubt.”

“So, all date kidding aside, what do you like to do other than read? What’s your job? I’ll even start. I own this bookshop, obviously. It used to belong to my mom.”

“Why doesn’t she run it now?” Derek asked.

Stiles’ face closed off, and some of the light in his eyes faded. Derek wanted to kick himself for ruining their perfectly good evening by bringing up an obviously sore subject. “Um…she died, a long time ago. We closed it for awhile, but after I graduated from college, I decided to open it back up. It was a long shot, really, but I’ve done pretty well.”

“I’m sorry,” Derek said. “I wouldn’t have asked if – “

“It’s okay,” Stiles said with a small, sad smile. “It’s been almost twenty years, but it’s still hard to talk about. My dad never remarried. He still wears his wedding band.”

“He must have really loved your mother,” Derek replied quietly.

Stiles nodded. “He did, still does. He’s dated some, had a few relationships. I’ve told him to remarry, but he still compares every woman to my mom.”

“My parents have been married for almost forty years,” Derek told him. He wasn’t sure why he was telling Stiles this stuff, but Stiles had shared with him first, and Derek found Stiles easy to talk to. “I guess that’s why I’m like I am. I want to fall in love and feel like they do about someone. I don’t see the point in dating if I don’t see a future with the person.”

“Makes sense to me,” Stiles said.

“My parents are just over sixty, but they’re completely smitten with each other. They’ve had hard times like all couples, but they’re still happy. They’re actually sickeningly cute sometimes, and since we’re all adults now, they’re a bit more, ah, open about things than they used to be.”

Stiles chuckled, then picked at his pizza. After a few quiet moments, he said, “I guess I’m scared to fall in love. I’ve watched my dad mourn for my mom almost my entire life. Sometimes I think love only means heartbreak.”

“I don’t think it does,” Derek said gently. “Your dad was married to the love of his life, wasn’t he?”

Stiles looked at him and asked, “Was it worth it, though?”

“He still wears his wedding band, doesn’t he?”

Stiles gave him a small smile. “I never would have pegged you as a romantic. But I think I’ve got you figured out.”

“Oh, do you now?” Derek asked with a smile.

“Oh yes,” Stiles said, shifting in the chair and leaning towards Derek. “That’s why you hate blind dates so much. You’re a romantic, and what’s romantic about a blind date? Nothing. There’s no excitement, no anticipation, no flutters. It’s just awkwardness.”

“Maybe,” Derek said. “I just hate wasting my time.”

“Like tonight?” Stiles asked, tapping the empty pizza box with his fingers.

“Tonight isn’t wasted,” Derek said. “This is the best Friday night I’ve had in ages. And it’s still early.”

“Shall we continue then?” Stiles took the pizza box into the back as Derek sat down at the game table.

They were almost through with the game when Derek’s cell phone rang. When he saw the name he groaned.

“That bad, huh?” Stiles asked.

“My sister,” Derek said, standing up and motioning towards the front of the store. “I’m gonna go take this outside.”

“Dude, it’s raining,” Stiles said and pointed to the door behind the counter. “Use the back room.”

“Thanks,” Derek said, phone still ringing. As he rounded the counter, he called out, “Don’t cheat!”

Stiles scoffed. “How dare you accuse me of cheating?”

Derek smiled as he pushed through the door, but frowned as he answered the phone. “Hello?”

“Where are you?” Cora demanded. “You’re not on your date with Stacy because she texted me and said you cancelled. And you’re not at your house because I’m standing on your front porch.”

“I’m sorry about Stacy,” Derek said.

Cora snorted. “Sure. She was really nice, Derek. And hot. And would probably have at least touched your dick tonight if you’d played your cards right.”

Derek groaned. “Don’t you get it?” he yelled. “I don’t care that she’s hot or nice or would have touched my dick! I don’t want to go on any more blind dates, a concept none of you can understand!”

“You’re hopeless.”

“Fuck off, Cora.” Derek ended the call and gripped the phone tightly in his hand, fuming. The phone lit up a moment later with a text. Of course, it was Cora.

You still didn’t have to blow off Stacy right before the date.

Derek shoved his phone into his pocket before storming back through the door. Stiles was behind the counter, ringing up a customer. The customer gave him a strange look, and Derek ignored her as he stomped back to the table. He glared at the game board, trying to calm down.

“That went well, I see,” Stiles said when he sat back down across from Derek. “Though, I am sorry you missed the opportunity to have someone touch your dick.”

Derek growled in frustration as he ran his hands over his face, accidentally knocking his glasses askew. “You heard that?”

“Dude, I think they heard it down the street.” Derek peeked through his fingers, and Stiles was laughing at him. “It’s fine! The customer was a little shocked, but I think it was the ‘fuck off’ that really got her.”

“I’m so sorry,” Derek said as he righted his glasses. “My sister is just…infuriating.”

“Well, that’s what board games are for. What better way to distract yourself as you waste away a perfectly good rainy Friday night?” Stiles pointed to Derek as he picked up his cards. “It’s your turn, by the way.”

“I think you cheated while I wasn’t looking,” Derek said, picking up his own cards and reorienting himself in the game.

“Keep throwing that shade, it’s cool. Still doesn’t change that I’m winning.”

Stiles, of course, won that game, too. Derek rubbed his hands through his hair and yelled in frustration. “Are you kidding me? Cheating. It’s the only explanation.”

“Pfft, keep telling yourself that, Derek. Truth is,” Stiles said as he stood. “You suck.”

Stiles walked over to the front door, flipped the sign to closed, and turned the lock. Surprised, Derek grabbed his phone and checked the time. It was almost 10:30. “Shit! You closed at ten. I’m sorry.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “I knew it was after ten. I figured if someone had a book related emergency this late, they could come in. Otherwise, I was gonna finish the game.” He smiled as he started packing the game box. “I don’t mind at all.”

Derek stood and helped Stiles put the game away. “Sucks it’s over. The time flew. I could keep playing.”

“You could, uh, always come upstairs and keep playing,” Stiles said, dropping his bag of trains into the box. “I’m not that tired. And I have a few beers in the fridge.”

“That actually sounds great,” Derek said. Stiles’ head whipped up, and he looked surprised. Derek laughed. “Don’t look so shocked.”

“I guess I just didn’t expect you to agree to keep playing board games with me,” Stiles said.

“I’m having fun.” Stiles smiled, and that made Derek smile.

Derek grabbed his leather jacket and the Ticket to Ride box as Stiles turned off the store lights. Then, he followed Stiles out of the store and waited as he locked the door. Stiles unlocked the non-descript door a few feet down the street, and Derek followed him inside and up narrow stairs.

The stairs led to a small landing with another door. When Derek stepped through the door, he stared around, impressed. The loft apartment was extremely nice. The door opened up into a spacious living room with wall-to-wall bookcases crammed with books and figurines. A worn, comfortable looking couch sat in the middle of the room facing a large flat screen mounted on the wall. A kitchen and a small dining room table were nestled in the back corner, and Derek saw a doorway leading off towards the right, which must have led to Stiles’ bedroom. The far wall was nothing but floor-to-ceiling windows.

“Sorry for the mess,” Stiles said as he grabbed a hoodie from the floor and tossed it over the back of a chair. “I don’t have a lot of time to clean.”

“No, it’s fine. This is nice,” Derek said, looking around. The space was cluttered, but lived in, warm, and cozy. He immediately walked over to the walls of bookcases and started poking around. “So many books. Have you read them all?”

“A lot of them,” Stiles said as he joined Derek. “Some are used books that didn’t sell in the store, others are donations that will go down there eventually.” He walked over to a far bookcase, and Derek followed him. “These are all my favorite books.” Derek’s interest was immediately piqued. There were well-worn paperbacks, aged hardbacks, and a few collector’s editions. He saw a lot of books that didn’t surprise him, but others that did, like The Grapes of Wrath and other Steinbecks and a decent selection of Virginia Woolfe.

Derek laughed as he touched the spine of a Thomas Hardy novel. “I hate Thomas Hardy,” he said. “I had to read The Return of the Native when I was in undergrad, and I never finished it. I fucking hated that book.”

Stiles laughed. “Never read it, but I liked The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess.”

“You like Kurt Vonnegut?” Derek asked, grabbing a copy of Cat’s Cradle from the shelf and opening it randomly. “I love him.”

“I read Slaughterhouse Fivein high school, and dude, it completely left an impression.”

“My favorite is Breakfast of Champions,” Derek said, replacing the book.

Stiles pointed to the top row. “These books were my mom’s favorites. She kept them in her bedroom up until she died. She must have read them a thousand times.” He reached up and grabbed an old worn paperback. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. “I remember seeing her read this multiple times when I was growing up. She kept telling me we’d discuss it when I was old enough to read it, but she died before I was old enough.” Stiles flipped to one of the pages, dog-eared, highlighted, and annotated with tiny, neat script. Stiles dragged his finger over the edge and said, “After I read it for the first time, I took it with me to her grave and sat there and talked to her about it.” Stiles looked at Derek, his eyes wide and shining. “Is that stupid?”

Derek shook his head and swallowed down his emotions. “No. Not stupid at all.”

Stiles replaced the book and pointed to a copy of Treasure Island. “She used to read that to me all the time. And these are the copies of Harry Potter she bought and read to me. Well, not all of them. She only read the first three to me, then I read the others on my own while she read them at the same time.” Stiles let his hand dropped and took a step back. “I’m sorry. I’m sure I’m boring you.”

“No, not at all,” Derek said. “Thank you for sharing that with me.” They just stood there for a moment, looking at one another. Finally, Derek glanced back at the books and said, “I just love books.”

“If you see anything you want to read, take it,” Stiles said as he walked over to the coffee table to pick up the game box.

“Thanks,” Derek said as he scanned another row of titles. “I might take you up on that.” He pulled a few out, read the back, then replaced them. Finally, with two novels in hand, he joined Stiles at the dinette table near the windows. It was still pouring down rain. “I got two. Hope that’s okay.”

“Awesome!” Stiles said, glancing at the titles. “Believe me, I won’t miss them.” He handed Derek the train cards. “Now be useful and shuffle.”

They played for hours. Stiles grabbed beers from his fridge a couple of times as they played, and they polished off a bag of chips and a jar of salsa and a box of Bagel Bites. After the fifth game (which Derek won), Stiles glanced at his phone and gasped. “Fuck, it’s after three!”

“Is it really?” Derek exclaimed, pulling off his glasses and rubbing his eyes. “God, it doesn’t seem like we’ve been playing for that long.”

“The board game time vortex,” Stiles said. “It’s almost as brutal as the video game vortex.”

“I should be going,” Derek said reluctantly as he slid his frames back on his face. “Though I’d love to keep playing.” He glanced out the window and frowned. The rain hadn’t let up at all. “I’m not looking forward to driving home in that.”

“Where do you live?” Stiles asked as he stood and stretched.

“Near the Preserve,” Derek told him. “It’s not too far, about twenty minutes away. And it’s still pouring down rain.”

“Don’t worry about the game,” Stiles said, waving towards the board on the table. “I’ll clean it tomorrow.”

“Do you have to open early tomorrow?” Derek asked as he pulled on his jacket.

“Nah, my friend Isaac is working tomorrow morning. He works the shifts I don’t. I can sleep in.”

“Good, now I don’t feel guilty.” Derek smiled and made his way towards the door.

At the door, Stiles said, “Here, take this,” before bending down and grabbing an umbrella propped on the wall. “Can’t risk getting the jacket wet.”

“Thanks.” Derek stood there, not leaving, as he looked at Stiles. “We should do this again. I had fun.”

“Me, too,” Stiles nodded. “I’m up for board games anytime.”

“Thanks for the umbrella and the beer,” Derek said as he reached for the doorknob. “Good night.”

“Good night, Derek.” Stiles gave him a sleepy smile, and Derek couldn’t help but return it.

As Derek drove home, listening to patter of rain on his windshield, he realized that was the best night he’d had in ages.

*

Cora gave him the cold shoulder Sunday at dinner. Derek didn’t care. He was over it. So, instead, he left all his siblings inside and sat on the porch with his dad. Derek loved being around his dad; his dad was quiet like him, and the root of his love for reading. They both sat in rocking chairs and read in companionable silence. Derek was reading one of the novels he borrowed from Stiles the other night, and it was a quiet and relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

That was, until Laura, Cora, and Josh came out of the house and disturbed them. “Cora said you stood Stacy up Friday night,” Laura said as she sat in the swing.

“And we were having such a lovely time out here reading,” Derek said, lowering his novel to his lap.

“You read all the time,” Josh said. “I think you’ll live.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “I didn’t stand her up,” Derek said. “I cancelled.”

“Right before the date,” Cora pointed out.

“Semantics,” Derek replied.

“Derek, you’re not even trying with these dates,” Laura said.

“Because I don’t want to go on them!” Derek exclaimed. “I’ve told you over and over. I’m not interested.”

“Kids, I think it’s time you and your mother leave Derek alone,” his dad said, closing his book and setting it on the floor. He pushed his glasses up his nose and looked at the three sitting on the swing. “You set him up on a few dates, he went on them, and you were unsuccessful. He’s a grown man, and no amount of badgering from you and your mother is going to change his mind about this.”

“Why do you always take his side?” Laura whined.

Their father rolled his eyes. “I’m not taking any sides, Laura. I just think enough is enough. Derek doesn’t want to go on any more dates, and honestly, I’m sick of hearing all of you argue about it.”

With that, his father stood up and left them alone on the porch. He’d said what he’d wanted to say, and that was that.

“You heard Dad,” Derek said, “no more blind dates.”

“Fine,” Cora huffed. “You’re still an asshole.”

“Fine, I’m an asshole, whatever.”

“What did you end up doing Friday night?” Laura asked. “Cora said you weren’t home when she stopped by.”

“I ended up playing board games with Stiles all night.”

His siblings all perked up at that. “Stiles?” Laura asked. “Who’s Stiles?”

“The guy who owns the bookshop in town,” Derek explained. “I went in there to buy a book, and we ended up playing board games til after midnight.”

Cora crossed her arms over her chest and smirked. “So, you did go on a date.”

“What? I didn’t go on a date.”

“You played board games until after midnight,” Josh said. “Sounds like a date. A lame date, but still a date.”

Derek sighed heavily. “It wasn’t a date. Stiles is just a friend.”

“Mm-hmm,” Cora hummed.

“Whatever,” Derek said, getting out of the chair and heading towards the door. “Think whatever you want. I’m just glad this whole blind date shit is over.” He stepped into the house, slamming the door behind him.

*

The first Wednesday night of every month, Isaac hosted book club at the shop. This month, they were reading Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Stiles was pretty excited since he and Isaac were big Alexie fans, but as soon as book club started, he immediately regretted the choice.

“I didn’t get it,” said Deborah, a middle-aged housewife who Stiles suspected had a thing for Isaac. “The stories didn’t even have the same characters.”

“The same characters showed up over and over,” Stiles stated. “Victor, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, and Junior.”

“I didn’t like it.” She slumped back in the chair with a frown.

“Okay,” Isaac said diplomatically. “Anyone else have any thoughts?”

“I thought it was brilliant,” Dave said, shooting a look at Stiles. Stiles barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “The unconventional story-telling methods and – “ Dave cut off when the store’s door opened, the bell tinkling loudly. Stiles glanced at the door as Dave started talking again. He couldn’t keep the smile off his face when he saw Derek striding towards the circle, holding a copy of the book.

There were no empty chairs, so Stiles got up and pointed to the one he just vacated. Derek nodded in thanks and slid into the chair as discreetly as possible, but everyone was staring at his late arrival, despite Dave attempting to talk. “Um, sorry I’m late?” Derek said.

“Not a problem,” Stiles said happily as he motioned for Jin to scoot down so he could squeeze his chair in beside Derek’s. “You haven’t missed anything. We just started.”

“Welcome,” Isaac said. “So, we were talking initial thoughts. Anyone have anything they’d like to start with?”

Dave spoke up. “Well, I was saying before I was interrupted that…”

Stiles tuned Dave out as he watched Derek flip through his copy of the book. Derek stopped on a page, and Stiles leaned closer and read the highlighted lines over his shoulder. Derek flipped to another marked page, and Stiles slapped his leg and turned to the same page in his copy of the book. They’d highlighted the same line. They exchanged a smile.

When Isaac adjourned book club and everyone started making their way towards the food they’d had catered, Dave walked over to Stiles. “I liked what you said about that one story,” he said.

“Which part?” Stiles asked.

“About escaping reality through music. That line from the story is really deep. ‘Music had powerful medicine.’ Awesome.”

Stiles nodded, but glanced over at Derek, who had made his way towards the food table and was now talking to Isaac. Stiles turned back to Dave and smiled, not wanting to be rude. “That’s my favorite Alexie story. I love it.”

“And what a cool name. ‘Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play The Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock’.”

“I’m glad you liked the book,” Stiles said. “You should check out his other books. Reservation Blues is great, and his YA novel is excellent.”

Dave snorted. “YA?” He rolled his eyes, and Stiles frowned.

“Dude, don’t be a snob,” he snapped. “YA is great. Sure, some of it is crap, but half the adult fiction books I sell are crap. There are some excellent YA books.”

“Whoa, I didn’t mean to offend you,” Dave said, laughing, and Stiles kinda wanted to punch him. “I didn’t know you were into that kind of stuff.”

“I don’t discriminate against books,” Stiles said.

“Maybe you can recommend me some good YA to broaden my horizons,” Dave suggested.

“Uh, sure,” Stiles said, “Though you really should talk to Allison. She’s the one who’s really into that. Do you know Allison? She works Sunday and Friday mornings.”

“I’d much rather know which ones you like,” Dave said, taking a step closer.

“Um,” Stiles stammered, trying to figure out how to get out of this. “Okay. I can do that.”

“I’m still waiting for our board game night,” Dave said. “I see you gathered a bunch.”

“Um, yeah, I’ve been trying to decide which – “

“Hey,” Derek interrupted, and Stiles turned to him with a sigh of relief. Dave shot Derek an irritated look. “I grabbed you a steak burrito before they were all gone.”

“You’re my hero,” Stiles said, taking the proffered plate. “Dave, this is Derek. Derek, this is Dave, one of my regular customers.”

Derek extended his hand and smiled at Dave. “Nice to meet you.”

Stiles took a bite of the burrito as he watched Dave eye Derek with derision. Dave said, “What brings you to book club? And late?”

Stiles almost choked on his burrito, but Derek didn’t even react. He crossed his arms over his chest and grinned at Dave, and Stiles had been on the receiving end of enough of Derek’s smiles to know this was not a friendly grin. It could only be described as wolfish, and Derek looked like he could bite Dave’s head right off. “Got off work late. I was up at the Beacon Canyon trails, fixing one of the trails that washed out from the weekend’s rains.” Dave didn’t look impressed, and Derek continued, “I saw the flier for book club one of the last times I was in here. Thought it might be fun.” Derek turned to Stiles. “I did really enjoy the book.”

“That’s awesome, dude,” Stiles said. He turned to Dave and said, “Thanks for coming, Dave. Hope to see you around soon!” Dave looked like he was about to object to Stiles leaving, so Stiles quickly walked away, Derek right behind him. “Thank you so much,” Stiles muttered as they neared the food table.

“You looked like you needed rescuing,” Derek said, nudging Stiles’ side. “I told you Dave wanted you.”

“He’s never been like he was tonight,” Stiles said. “Talk about personal space.” As he took another bite of his burrito, he realized that technically speaking, Derek was standing closer to him than Dave had been earlier. Derek was at his elbow, eating his own burrito and stealing chips from Stiles’ plate. “Thanks for making my burrito, by the way.”

“No problem,” Derek said, scooping guacamole from Stiles’ plate. “Thought it was a good reason to come interrupt you.”

“Did you really like the book?” Stiles asked.

Derek nodded as he swallowed. “Yeah, I did. Some of the stories were a bit hard to completely understand, but overall, I liked them. I like his writing style. There’s some beautiful language there. And after I finished, I watched Smoke Signals.

Stiles’ eyes grew wide, and he gripped Derek’s shoulder with his free hand. “Are you kidding me?” he exclaimed. “I can’t believe you know about that movie!”

“I was reading about the book online after I finished, and I saw they adapted one of the stories into a screenplay.” He shrugged. “I really liked the movie.”

“Because it’s awesome,” Stiles said. He shook his head, took a bite of his burrito, and smiled. After he swallowed, he said, “Still can’t believe you watched it.”

“Your boyfriend just left,” Isaac said from beside him. Stiles glanced over at him, and Isaac was pointing towards the door where Dave was leaving. “I don’t think he was happy.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Who cares?”

“I think you really hurt his feelings by not paying more attention to his analysis of the novel,” Isaac said in mock seriousness. He smirked and looked between Stiles and Derek. “You were too busy messing with Derek.”

Stiles huffed, taken aback. “I was not messing with Derek. I was reading over his shoulder.”

“Being nosy is more like it,” Derek said.

Stiles shrugged. “What can I say? I’m fascinated by what people highlight when they read.” Isaac hummed and gave Stiles a knowing look, so Stiles said, “So, have you two met?”

“Yeah, he came over and introduced himself,” Isaac said. “Nice to finally put a face with the name.”

Derek looked at Stiles in surprise. “You talked about me?”

Stiles felt himself blush, his cheeks hot. He wanted to kill Isaac right there on the spot. “Er, yes? I told them about how we spent Friday night, you know, playing games and being losers and stuff.”

Derek ducked his head and laughed, and Stiles caught the thoughtful look Isaac gave them. “It was a lot of fun. I’m half-tempted to wander in here Friday just to do it again.”

Stiles nodded enthusiastically. “Dude, you totally should. We can play something different, or I can kick your ass at Ticket to Ride again.”

Derek scoffed. “Pfft, I won half the games.”

“Um, I won four, you won two. Not quite half.”

“It’s on. I’m gonna cream you next time.”

Stiles snorted and said, “There you go with the board game innuendos again.” Derek looked confused, then turned bright pink when he realized what he’d just said.

“That’s not what I meant!” he said, flustered. Stiles just laughed.

After everyone from book club left, Isaac and Stiles cleaned up the mess from the food. While they were working, Isaac said, “Why didn’t you tell us you were basically dating Derek?”

Stiles dropped the plates he was holding. “What?” he sputtered. “I’m not, it’s not, he’s not – No.” He shook his head. “We’re not dating. Just friends.”

“That’s not quite how it looks,” Isaac said. “As soon as he saw you and Dave talking, he made a beeline for you. And I watched the two of your flirting all through the book discussion.”

Stiles gaped at Isaac. “First off, he saved me from Dave because Dave is annoying and I’m not interested. Second, we were not flirting.”

“He made you a burrito.”

“So?”

Isaac rolled his eyes. “You’re a fucking dumbass, do you know that?”

“Fuck off, Isaac. Seriously.” Stiles threw a large wad of trash into the bag. “He’s not interested in a relationship. He’s made that extremely clear. He’s done nothing but bitch about his family setting him up on dates for the last few weeks. So, believe me, there is no hope there.” Stiles sighed and shoved an empty rice container into the bag. “Absolutely nothing.”

“Wanna go get drunk?” Isaac asked.

“Fuck yeah,” Stiles said. “I’ll call Scott.”

*

Getting drunk on a Wednesday was not Stiles’ best idea. Thursday, he spent the day in bed since it was Allison’s day at the store. That evening, he sat behind the counter with his head resting on it unless there was a customer in front of him.

When he heard the bell on the door jingle, he groaned and raised his head. Derek was walking towards him, so he dropped his head back to the counter.

“What’s wrong with you?” Derek asked.

“I think I’m dying,” Stiles replied, voice muffled by the wood. “Isaac is an evil, evil man. He and Scott both. I hate them. We’re no longer friends. I am friendless.”

“What happened?” Derek asked, concerned.

Stiles groaned again and lifted his head, holding it up with his hands. “Nothing happened. I’m just whining. We went out last night and got drunk. I’m regretting that decision.”

Derek rolled his eyes, but there was a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “You’re ridiculous. It was Wednesday.”

“Thanks, Mr. Calendar.” Stiles ran a hand through his hair. “What are you doing here anyway? And what are you wearing?” Stiles finally got a good look at Derek, and he was way too hung over for this. Derek was wearing his glasses, close-fitting khaki pants, a tight khaki button up, and hiking boots. It should look ridiculous, but Stiles wanted to jump Derek right there and maybe defile him on the counter.

“Oh,” Derek said, looking down at his clothes. “These are my work clothes. I haven’t gone home and changed.”

“Do you look good in everything?” Stiles blurted. Derek looked at him, surprised, and Stiles wanted to just crawl under the counter and hide.

“Thanks? I think?” Derek chuckled. “I came by to ask if you were serious about tomorrow, and if so, if you minded if I brought some food.”

“Of course you can come by tomorrow,” Stiles said, “and I’d love it if you brought food.”

Derek nodded. “Cool.” He reached over and grabbed a random blind date with a book and put it on the counter. “I’ll take this.”

“You didn’t even look at the description,” Stiles said, dragging himself over to the register.

“I don’t really care. I always like the books you wrap.” Derek handed Stiles cash, and Stiles dropped his head back down to the counter before Derek had even walked away. Stiles gasped in surprise when Derek gently ran his hand over his head. “Poor thing,” he teased, his hand resting hot and heavy on Stiles’ neck. Stiles was trying to stay calm, but it was difficult. “Hope you feel better.”

“Thanks,” Stiles said, voice scratchy. Long after Derek left, Stiles’ skin still tingled where Derek’s hand touched him.

*

Stiles absolutely did not close the shop for fifteen minutes just to run up to his apartment and change into a better outfit, fix his hair, and splash on some aftershave. Except he totally did. He felt kind of like a tool as he stared into the mirror, trying to arrange his hair into the perfect bed-head, purposefully messy style. He put on his favorite t-shirt, hoodie, and khakis, and hoped he looked okay.

Maybe Isaac was right. Maybe Derek did kind of like him. So, Stiles was trying to make himself look more appealing. Though, as he took another look in the mirror, he realized he really had no hope with a guy like Derek. He looked like his geeky younger brother.

And his mood didn’t get better as the night continued. Around five-thirty, the store’s phone rang. “A Novel Idea, this is Stiles.”

“Hey, it’s Derek.”

“Hey!”

“Look, I hate I have to do this, but can I have a rain check on tonight? My sister called, and she needs me to go somewhere with her.”

“Oh,” Stiles said, feeling the intense sting of rejection. “Yeah, not a problem. It’s cool.”

“Are you sure?” Derek asked, and it was worse that he actually sounded upset about it.

“Yeah, it’s just board games. They’ll be here later. Go help your sister.”

“Thanks, you’re the best. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

When Stiles hung up the phone, he stared down at his clothes, ran a hand through his hair, and felt like a complete tool. Why had he even gotten his hopes up?

*

Around nine, Stiles was putting the finishing touches on a castle drawing on the outside of the book he’d just wrapped when the front door to the shop banged open. Stiles jumped, then looked apprehensively towards the door. Derek was storming towards him, looking murderous. Stiles was terrified.

“Derek, what’s wrong?” he asked.

“I’m going to kill my family,” Derek seethed. “They’re ridiculous! Do you know what they did?” He glared at Stiles, and though he knew the look wasn’t directed at him, he shrank away. “They took me on a group date. The thing my sister needed me to go with her to? Yeah, it was a badly disguised blind date. And Laura and Connor - and their spouses! - were all in on it! She told me we were going to dinner with my cousin who was in town. Guess what? No cousin!

Stiles laughed before he could stop himself. He slapped his hand across his mouth as Derek glowered at him. “I’m sorry, it’s not funny, except it totally is.” He tried not to laugh, but he couldn’t suppress a few giggles.

“Thanks for nothing,” Derek snapped. He turned to storm away, but Stiles lunged across the counter and grabbed his arm. “Hey, none of that. It’s just…” Stiles laughed incredulously. “Your family, man. How batshit crazy are they?”

“Extremely.” Derek grabbed a wrapped book from the table without looking and slammed it down on the counter. “Here.”

“Did you finish the one you bought last night already?” Stiles asked.

“No, but it’s gonna be a long night. I need a lot of distracting.”

“I have an idea. Give me a minute.” He disappeared into the back, picked a book, and wrapped it. On the cover, he wrote:
The ‘Fuck The Blind Dates’ Book
Mystery – because it’s a mystery why they won’t leave you alone
Set in space – because you’re out of this world
Satire – because it’s fucking hilarious, dude
No romance – because fuck the blind dates

Stiles drew little frowny-faces all over the book, then deemed his masterpiece complete. When he handed it over to Derek, Derek laughed the moment he read the first line. As his eyes scanned over the rest, he seemed to lose some of his anger, and laughed when he was finished.

“This is ridiculous,” Derek said, smiling, “but thank you. I needed a laugh.”

“Not my best work, but hey, I did it in like three seconds.”

“Mission accomplished, I believe.” Derek handed over the cash and put the book under his arm. “Sorry about cancelling on you tonight.”

Stiles waved his hand dismissively. “It’s not a big deal.”

“It is,” Derek insisted. “Let me make it up to you.”

“Oooo…kay.” Stiles’ heart pounded in his throat, and he waited, his entire body trembling with anticipation.

“Let me buy you dinner. Next game night?”

Stiles’ heart was in his throat, beating so hard it threatened to burst right out of his chest. He tried not to look into it too much, but Derek just offered to buy him dinner. Stiles was surprised there weren’t red cartoon hearts dancing around his head.

“Yeah,” he said, extending his arm awkwardly and then running it through his hair. “I mean, you don’t have to. It’s not a big deal, but I’m not turning down free food.”

“Good. Anything you want.”

“Really? I’m thinking lobster and steak then.”

Derek smiled. “Goodnight, Stiles.”

After Derek left the store, Stiles tried not to get excited. This was…probably very bad, but Stiles couldn’t keep the huge grin off his face.

*

Derek was still mad at his family. He considered skipping dinner on Monday night, but he decided he wasn’t that mad. He just glared at Laura and Connor for the first half hour he was there.

“Oh good god, Derek,” Laura exclaimed when they were seated around the table. “Grow up. Sue us for trying to set you up on dates.”

“Pretending we’re going to dinner with a cousin, and instead forcing me to sit through an awkward dinner with you, Luke, Connor, Anna, and some random woman, was not okay!” Derek exclaimed. “I told you. No more blind dates!”

“I don’t know why you’re being so stubborn,” Connor said. “We’ve set you up with a lot of nice people. If you’d given any of them a chance, I’m sure you would have probably enjoyed going out with most of them.”

“Blind dates are not the way I want to meet people!” Derek exclaimed. “There’s no romance, no anticipation,” he found himself saying, thinking of the conversation he had with Stiles. “I want to be excited about the person I’m going out with. I want to feel happy when I’m around them, be challenged by them, or frustrated, or amazed. I want them to make me laugh, to have similar interests, to not take themselves too seriously, to be smart but not pretentious. I want to feel something when I’m with them.”

“You don’t want much, do you?” Cora muttered.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” Talia said, placing a hand on Derek’s shoulder as she took the seat at the dining room table beside him. She shared a look with Derek’s dad and smiled. “I can understand wanting something amazing. That’s what I have with your father.”

“And it’s what both of you have with Anna and Luke,” Derek’s father said, giving his children and their spouses pointed looks. Laura and Connor looked chagrined. “Derek will find someone when it’s time. You can’t rush true love. If you do, it ends in disaster.”

“Sorry, Derek,” Laura said. “I was just trying to help. I worry about you.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “I know you do, and I appreciate it. But I’m happy. I don’t know what else you need from me.”

“Well, that’s settled then,” Talia said, clapping her hands. “No more blind dates for Derek. Now, who wants kale?”

After dinner, the family decided to play a game of Phase 10, one of the few games they found that accommodated nine people. Sally was in her play room, playing with her dolls, and Anna and Connor took turns checking on her.

“I forgot how much I liked playing cards,” Derek said as he melded. “I should take this to Stiles’ shop next time we have game night.”

“Did you go on another date with bookstore guy?” Cora asked, smirking.

“It wasn’t a date,” Derek replied, frustrated. “I’ve told you; we’re just friends.”

“Cora,” Talia warned. “Leave your brother alone.” She turned to Derek. “I’m glad you’re spending time with someone new. Does he own the bookstore downtown?” Derek nodded. “I think I’ve seen him at Rotary meetings. Brown hair, kinda thin, cute?”

“If you add excessively irritating, that’s probably him.”

Talia hummed and discarded. “I’ve spoken to him a few times, and he seems like a very nice young man.”

“I think I’ve been in that shop a few times,” Laura said. “A woman I work with is a member of their book club, I think.”

“I went to this month’s book club meeting,” Derek said as he watched Josh meld. “It was kinda fun. Stiles’ friend leads it.”

Cora, Connor, and Josh all stared at him. Derek shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “You went to a book club meeting?” Connor asked. “Voluntarily?”

“But you hate people,” Josh said.

Derek rolled his eyes. “I don’t hate people,” he said. “Though I’m starting to consider hating all of you.”

“I think that sounds lovely, Derek,” Talia said.

“I used to love being a member of the book club,” Derek’s dad said. “I don’t know why I stopped. Maybe I should find a book club to get involved with again.”

“I don’t know if I’m going back,” Derek said. “Most of the people were idiots, but afterwards, Stiles and I had a pretty interesting discussion about the book.”

“I’m sure you did,” Cora muttered. Talia tsked, and Josh high-fived her. Derek just wondered why he ever told his family anything at all.

*

Wednesday was Derek’s day off. Connor called and asked if he wanted to spend some time with him and Sally, maybe go to lunch. So, Connor picked Derek up and drove the three of them into town. Instead of driving to a restaurant, Derek watched in confusion as Connor drove downtown, then parked on the main street. “What are we doing?” Derek asked. “Sally’s a little young to eat at Angelo’s.”

“We’re going to story time,” Connor replied with a smile. “You hear that, Sally? We’re going to story time!”

“Yippee!” Sally exclaimed, bouncing in her car seat.

Derek glanced at the sign for A Novel Idea and frowned. “You did this on purpose,” he said, turning to glare at his brother. “Did Laura put you up to this?”

Connor scoffed. “I resent that. I saw that your friend’s store had a story time on Wednesdays when I looked at the website. I thought it might be fun for Sally, and thought you’d like to come with us.”

Derek didn’t believe him for a second. “You’re a dirty liar, and I hate you.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Connor laughed as he got Sally out of the back of the car. She immediately ran to Derek and grabbed his hand.

“Where are we going?” she asked, looking up at him.

“To that store right there,” Derek replied, pointing.

Inside the store was packed in a way Derek had never seen before. There were numerous small children and their various parents gathered around. Many were already seated on the rug in the back of the store, facing an empty chair, but there were still lots of kids running around. Derek cringed; aside from his own niece, he really hated kids. But then Derek got an image of Stiles dressed in costume, reading in funny voices to kids, and realized he had to witness this.

“Welcome to Story Time with Allison, you can take your - oh my god, Derek!” Stiles exclaimed the moment he saw Derek behind Connor. He squeaked out, “What are you doing here?”

When Derek got a good look at him, he couldn’t help but laugh. Stiles glared at him. “Laugh it up, jerkface. I do it for the kids.” Stiles had his face painted like a dog, and was wearing fake dog ears attached to a headband.

“You look ridiculous.”

“I think it’s neat!” Sally exclaimed. Stiles turned his attention to Sally and smiled.

“You must be the niece who likes wolves.”

Sally’s mouth opened in a dramatic O of surprise. “How did you know I like wolves?” She narrowed her eyes and said suspiciously, “I don’t know you, and Mom and Dad said I’m not supposed to talk to strangers, and you’re a stranger and know I like wolves and I don’t know you.”

Derek coughed to cover his laugh. Stiles was listening to Sally, trying to keep up, his eyes growing wider with each word. When Sally stopped talking, Stiles said, “Your Uncle Derek told me. He bought your wolf book and bookmark here.”

Sally turned to Derek with a surprised expression. “You did?” She glanced back at Stiles and smiled widely. “I love them. I’m Sally. I’m four years old now.” She held up three fingers, and Derek patiently pulled up the pinky again. “This is my Uncle Derek, and this is my dad. What’s your name? Then we won’t be strangers no more.”

Stiles laughed. “I’m Stiles.”

“That’s a weird name.” She scrunched up her face.

“Sally!” Derek exclaimed. “That’s not polite.”

She looked up at Derek and said, “But it’s true. Mom and Dad said I shouldn’t lie.”

“It’s cool,” Stiles said. “It is weird.”

“Stiles, this is my brother, Connor,” Derek introduced Connor, who was grinning at the exchange. He had his phone out, and that definitely couldn’t be a good thing.

“It’s wonderful to meet you, Stiles,” Connor said, extending his hand. “We’ve heard a lot about you.”

“You have?” Stiles asked, eyes wide. Derek felt the tips of his ears burning in embarrassment and wanted to kick Connor in the nuts.

“I told them about board game night,” Derek quickly said.

“Oh,” Stiles smiled, then turned back to Connor. “It’s great to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about Derek’s family, too, so it’s nice to finally meet one of them.”

“Whatever he’s told you, it’s probably not true,” Connor said. “Derek’s the drama queen of the family.”

“Connor, I think we should go find a seat, don’t you?” Derek said, glaring at his brother. He heard Stiles laughing, and Connor had to gall to grin at him.

“Yeah, Dad!” Sally said, grabbing Connor’s hand with her other one and dragging the two men forward. “Let’s go!”

“Enjoy!” Stiles called out behind them. “Allison’s great! You’ll love it.”

After they found a seat at the back of the crowd, Derek leaned over to Connor and whispered, “You’re an asshole, you know that, right?”

“You think I was going to miss the opportunity to embarrass you?” Connor punched Derek on the thigh lightly. “I like him, Derek. He seems really nice.”

“I’m not dating him,” Derek snapped.

Connor just shrugged. “I still like him. Laura’s mad I met him first, but Cora said he was cute.”

“What?” Derek pulled out his phone and saw he had seven group texts. He opened the thread and saw that Connor had texted Laura, Cora, Josh, and him a picture of Derek talking to Stiles from a few moments ago. Only the back of Derek’s head was visible, but Stiles’ face was visible.

Connor: Visual proof that Stiles exists. Cute couple, huh?
Laura: I hate you! I want to meet Stiles. Are you there now? What are you doing?
Josh: Dude looks weird. Why’s he dressed like a dog? Is Derek into furries now?
Connor: Story time at the bookshop. Sally’s talking to him now.
Laura: I want to meet him!
Cora: He’s cute, in a weird, geeky kind of way.
Laura: Totally cute.
Derek: I. HATE. YOU. ALL.
Derek: And I’m not into furries. Stiles is not a furry.
Josh: That you know of.

He shoved his phone into his pocket and ignored Connor. Story time was led by a pretty dark-haired woman, who was dressed up like Robin Hood, or Merrida, or something like that, with a medieval-looking green outfit and a bow and quiver full of arrows, her hair hanging over her shoulder in a loose braid. About five minutes in, Sally was completely absorbed in the story the woman was reading, but Derek was still irritated. So, he got up, leaving Connor and Sally on the rug. He walked to the back of the store, where Stiles was ringing up a customer behind the counter.

“Story time that bad?” Stiles asked. “I personally think Allison is amazing. She’s the reason this thing even has an audience. Left up to me, we’d be reading the greatest hits of Ralph S. Mouse every week.”

“I loved those books,” Derek smiled.

“Me, too. I had to do a book report on one in the fourth grade, but Mom had already read it to me years before. I started the book report about Ralph S. Mouse, but ended up talking about another book instead, I think it was like a Stephen King or something like that, and my teacher failed me for not following directions.”

“Sucks,” Derek said.

“Your niece is adorable,” Stiles said, motioning towards the group on the floor. “Much chattier than you.”

“That’s not difficult.”

“Eh, you talk more than you like people to think. You’re really not that quiet anymore.”

“I bet you’ve never been quiet,” Derek teased.

Stiles chuckled. “Probably only when I’m reading, though my dad swears I read aloud without realizing it. I think he lies, but he says even a book can’t shut me up.”

“Oh, I believe it.” Stiles stuck his tongue out, and Derek rolled his eyes, trying not to smile.

“So, you’re brother’s hot,” Stiles said.

Derek looked at him sharply and frowned. “He’s married.” The fact that Stiles said that irritated Derek immensely, probably because Connor was such a pain in the ass.

Stiles rolled his eyes. “I think the ring and the four year old gave that one away. It’s just an observation. Are all the Hales ridiculously attractive?”

“You think I’m attractive?” slipped out before Derek could stop himself.

“Haha, very funny. Sorry I said your brother was hot, but it’s true. I’m kinda scared to see the rest of your family. Is it like some superpower that when all of the siblings get together, you just control everyone with your hotness?”

“What are you even talking about?” Derek asked.

“I don’t know. I’m dressed like a dog and usually don’t see people I know when I’m dressed like this, so I think it’s throwing me off,” Stiles said, hands moving around his face erratically. “So, are you just gonna stand there like a creeper or do you want to be useful.” Derek scowled at him, and Stiles grinned. “Thought so. Wanna help me sort through these boxes of used books?”

Derek heaved a sigh, but took off his jacket and pushed up his sleeves. “Beats story time.”

“I’m offended by that on Allison’s behalf,” Stiles said as Derek went behind the counter and sat down on the floor. “Story time is excellent.”

“If you’re five.”

“Yeah, dude, that’s, uh, kinda the point?” Stiles looked down at him like he was an idiot, and Derek knew he was right, but he still scowled at him anyway before yanking a box of books towards him.

Derek sorted books into stacks based on genre, and threw away disgusting ones that Stiles believed he couldn’t sell. “Why do people read so many romances?” Derek asked as he placed another regency bodice-ripper on the stack. It was already three times as large as the rest.

Stiles shrugged from his stool. “People like love stories, the less like reality, the better. They want damsels in distress and heaving bosoms, apparently.”

Derek grunted as he placed another on the stack. “Sounds ridiculous.”

“They are,” Stiles said. “I’ve read a few, just to see what they were. Just not my thing.”

Derek laughed. “I’m trying to imagine you reading,” he picked up the closest book, “A Marquis of Desire.”

“The historical ones are the only ones I liked,” Stiles laughed. He entered another book into the computer and asked, “So, did you not have to go to work today?”

“No, I’m working this weekend, so I got today and tomorrow off.”

“What do you do for a living? You’ve never told me.”

“I haven’t? Well, I work for the Forestry Service. I take care of trails, help with development of new ones, that kind of stuff. I also lead hikes, do kayak tours, and facilitate overnight camping outings.”

Stiles glanced down at him. “That sounds like a lot of fun. I’ve never really done that kind of thing. I’m not really outdoorsy, but it always looked fun.”

“We could do it together,” Derek suggested. “I can teach you how to kayak, and hiking and camping are easy.”

“Easy for you, a mountain man,” Stiles teased. “You even got the beard. Just need to get you some plaid.” Derek huffed out a laugh. “Though, I think the glasses throws the whole look off. Geeky hipster mountain man, maybe?” Derek grunted. “That’d be great, though. I’d love to learn how to camp and kayak and stuff. How badass would that be?”

“I promise, I wouldn’t let you fall off a mountain or get eaten by a mountain lion.”

“Haha, very funny,” Stiles said. “Wait, you’re joking about the mountain lions, aren’t you?”

Derek just smiled. “Maybe.”

When Allison was wrapping up story time, Stiles left Derek behind the counter and went to give out reading reward sheets and stickers. The noise level increased dramatically, and the store was filled with screeching, yelling children.

“I found him, Dad!” Sally yelled when she came around behind the counter. “He’s back here!”

Connor’s upper body popped over the counter. “What are you doing back here?”

“Yeah, Uncle Derek,” Sally said, crossing her arms over her chest and frowning. “You didn’t stay for story time. Miss Allison is the best. She can use a real bow and arrow! Dad said he’d go to Wal-Mart and buy me a bow and arrow, too.”

Derek glanced at Connor, who said, “A plastic one. Obviously.” Sally sat down beside Derek, and Connor said, “Seriously, what are you doing?”

“Helping Stiles sort donations.” Derek motioned around him. “He needed the help.”

“Oh, I’m sure that’s the only reason you’re back here behind the counter with him.” Connor winked at him, and Derek glared.

“Oh hello again!” Stiles said to Connor as he approached the counter. When he came around behind it, he said, “Looks like you got a little helper.”

“I’m gonna get a bow and arrow like Miss Allison,” Sally told him matter-of-factly.

“That is very cool,” Stiles responded. “Bows and arrows are cool. Did you like story time?”

“It was the BEST!” Sally exclaimed. “I loved it. Miss Allison is the best. I loved the story she read. I want to come back next week!”

“You should totally do that,” Stiles said. He turned to the display of bookmarks, spun it around, and grabbed one featuring Merrida. “Here. You can put this in one of your books.”

“It’s Merrida! She has a bow and arrow, too! Look Uncle Derek!” Sally shoved the bookmark in Derek’s face.

“That’s nice,” Derek said.

“What do you say, Sally?” Connor asked.

“Thank you!” Sally jumped up and gave Stiles a big hug. Stiles patted her head.

“You’re welcome.”

“Well, I think it’s lunch time,” Connor said. “Sally, Derek, say goodbye to Stiles.” Derek glared at his brother as he stood up from the floor.

“Be glad you’re an only child,” Derek told Stiles as he took Sally’s hand and walked from behind the counter.

“Derek loves us,” Connor told Stiles. “He’s just perpetually grumpy.”

“That I don’t doubt,” Stiles laughed, and laughed even harder when Derek shot him a look. “Don’t look so betrayed. Just calling them as I see them. Apparently, I like grumpy because I haven’t gotten tired of your sour face yet.”

“Goodbye, Stiles,” Derek said in frustration, leading Sally out of the store by the hand. She yelled at Allison and waved at her enthusiastically as they walked through the store. Allison gave them a smile and waved, calling Sally by name as she told her she hoped to see her next week.

When they were outside the store, Connor said, “That guy is so into you.”

“He is not,” Derek said, flustered.

Connor shook his head. “I’m just saying, I totally approve of Stiles.”

For some reason, that made Derek smile.

*

“Stiles, Derek is totally hot,” Allison said after the story time crowd had dispersed. “And I think he’s into you.”

Stiles snorted. “Yeah, he’s not.”

Allison looked at him dubiously. “Isaac told me about book club, and after seeing him today…he only sat down for a few minutes before he ran back there to see you.”

“He did not run,” Stiles argued. “He just helped me sort books.”

Allison shrugged. “You know him better than I do, but I still think there’s a chance. Give yourself more credit. You’re amazing, Stiles.”

“I’m not dumb,” Stiles said, “I know that no one who looks like Derek would be interested in me. I mean, my face is painted like a dog, Allison. How embarrassing is that?”

“I don’t think he minded,” Allison sad. “I think he likes you, dog-face or no.”

“Very comforting,” Stiles said sarcastically.

*

Stiles was singing along to a playlist streaming through the speakers and dusting the shelves when the front door’s bell jingled. He turned to see two beautiful, dark-haired women entering the store. And immediately dropped the feather duster.

“He-hello,” Stiles stammered as he bent down to retrieve the duster. “Can I help you find something?”

“Nope,” one of the women said. She grinned at him, but it felt more predatory than friendly. However, her eyes were striking. Stiles was immediately intimidated and wanted to go hide behind his counter.

“Just looking,” the other said, smirking at him.

“Oooookay,” Stiles said. “Um, let me know if you need any help?”

“Sure.”

Stiles disappeared behind the counter and started processing new arrivals. The women browsed around the store, but stayed mostly in eye sight. The two times Stiles glanced at them, the one with the striking eyes was staring at him. He wasn’t quite sure what to think.

When they brought their purchases up to the counter, the one with the eyes said, “This is a nice shop. Is it yours?”

“Yes?” Stiles replied, grabbing her two books.

“You don’t sound very sure about that,” the other one said. There was something familiar about her, but he couldn’t place what.

“It is my shop,” Stiles said as he rung up the books. “I own it.”

“Very nice,” the first woman said. They both stared at him as she paid and Stiles rung up the second woman’s books. He still wasn’t sure what was going on, and he felt confused and a bit like he was being studied. But he couldn’t think of a reason why.

“Well,” the first woman said, “have a good day.”

“You, too,” Stiles said, waving as the two women left, turning back once more to look at him at the door. The second one said something quietly to the first one, and they laughed.

Stiles decided that was quite possibly the weirdest thing that’d happened to him in awhile.

*

Thursday evening, Derek came into the shop. Stiles’ entire face lit up the moment he saw him. “Hey! What are you doing here?” He glanced at Derek’s clothes. “You don’t really look like you’re going on a date.”

Derek looked down. “What’s wrong with my clothes?”

“Nothing,” Stiles said. He barely refrained from telling Derek all the things right with those jeans, starting with the way they pulled across his crotch and thighs.

“I gotta work tomorrow night, so I thought I’d drop by tonight, maybe grab a book to tide me over.” He shrugged.

“Are you really gonna be fixing trails at night?”

“Overnight camping thing.”

“But… it’s gonna be cold!”

Derek gave him a flat look. “You can camp in the cold. Winter camping is sometimes better than summer camping. Just layer up. Gloves, hat, scarf, the right socks, additional shirt. Build a fire, bring lots of blankets.”

“Says the mountain man.”

“I’m not a mountain man,” Derek said with a long-suffering sigh.

“So, are you busy tonight? I thought since you were here…”

“Board games?” Derek asked with a smile.

“You’ll be saving me from boredom.”

“Well, in that case.” Derek removed his jacket and went over to pull the table and chairs near the register. As Stiles looked at the board games, Derek asked, “Wanna try something a little different?”

Stiles twisted around. “What do you have in mind?”

“Got two decks of cards?”

Stiles sat across from Derek as he explained the rules of Canasta. Stiles had played it years ago, but he was fuzzy on the details. He was just so glad that Derek was there that he didn’t care what they did. All crush and attraction aside, he really liked the way Derek made him feel when he was around. He couldn’t remember the last time someone made him smile like Derek did.

As they played, Stiles asked, “So why a park ranger? It’s not a common job.”

Derek shrugged as he drew two cards. “I like being outdoors. My family used to go camping and backpacking all the time. I thought, why not?”

“I thought about going into law enforcement like my dad, even majored in criminal psychology.”

“Huh,” Derek said, discarding. “I don’t think I would have pegged you as a criminal psychologist. You don’t seem very…” Derek waved his hand around, and Stiles waited for him to finish.

“Very what?”

“Law enforcement. You’re just too…spastic and all over the place.”

“While that is true, and not very nice,” Stiles added, shooting Derek his best annoyed face, “I’m pretty good at detective work, and I’m a hell of a researcher. I get lost in research loops for days. My dad and Scott have both had to physically pull me away from books and my laptop and force me to eat, shower, and go to sleep.”

“Now, that I can see,” Derek said. “So, why the store? Why did you decide to open your own business then?”

Stiles shrugged. “It made me feel close to my mom. We always talked about running the store together when I was older. Our dream was for both of us to own it and work side by side after college.” He smiled sadly at the table, his mind far away. “One of the last things she said to me was that we’d still run it together one day because she’d be in the walls, in every book of the store. It’s really stupid, but sometimes when I’m here by myself and it’s quiet and still, I think I can feel her beside me.”

Stiles flinched in surprise when Derek’s hand covered his arm. He watched as Derek’s thumb trailed lightly against the sleeve of his plaid shirt. He sniffed, then wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. “You probably think I’m an idiot.”

“I don’t think you’re an idiot at all,” Derek said softly. Stiles lowered his hand and looked at Derek. The look on his face was unreadable yet heavy, and it made every nerve in Stiles’ body sing.

Stiles cleared his throat. “Yeah, well.” He tapped his cards on the table twice. “Um, do you wanna get out of here? Maybe order take out and continue this in my apartment?”

Derek sat back, and unfortunately pulled his hand away from Stiles’ arm. That was okay, though. Things just got really intense and confusing in the last few minutes, and Stiles’ head was reeling.

“You don’t close for a few more hours.”

Stiles shrugged. “It’s a Thursday night, which means it’s slow. Plus, perk of being the owner.” He rubbed his eyes and leaned back. “I just need to get out of here.”

“I’ve got an idea,” Derek said.

After Stiles closed the store, Derek drove them across town to a small dive bar. Stiles looked at it in confusion as he got out of the car. “I know,” Derek said as he led the way towards the door, “It looks kind of sketch, but they have a great burger, better fries, and decent pool tables.”

“You had me at fries,” Stiles said.

The bar was dim, with some top 40 rock song playing on the jukebox. Derek pointed to the pool tables. “Claim a table while I grab the beers.” Stiles walked over to the pool table at the far end of the room and started racking the balls. Derek joined him a few minutes later, carrying two glasses.

“Here,” Derek said, handing one to Stiles as he took a slow sip from his own.

“Thanks,” Stiles said as Derek grabbed his pool cue.

Derek was unsurprisingly better than Stiles, but Stiles held his own. They didn’t talk much as they played, and Stiles appreciated the mindless distraction. Talking about his mom and sharing that moment with Derek – it was all a little much for him.

They had finished dinner and were draining their second round of beers when Stiles caught sight of the dart board. “Let’s do this,” he said. “I haven’t played darts in years.”

Derek let Stiles go first, and his first dart landed in the wall. Derek burst out laughing, and Stiles groaned. “Are you kidding me?” He threw another one, which landed wider than the first. “I give up. No more darts.” He threw the third one, and it bounced off the board and landed on the floor.

Derek went over to retrieve the three darts, then stood beside Stiles. Effortlessly, he threw three onto the board. He turned to Stiles, smug, and Stiles said, “I hate you.”

Derek drained the last of his glass and said, “I’ll get another round and teach you how to throw darts.”

When Derek returned with two fresh glasses, Stiles was throwing darts at the board. He’d managed one in the circle, but the others had missed the mark. Stiles took his glass from Derek, took a huge gulp, then set it on the nearby table. “Okay, let’s do this. Teach me how to throw darts.”

Derek showed him what to do, then told Stiles to do the same thing. As soon as Stiles picked up the dart, Derek said, “No, no. Just…no.” He shook his head as he came over to correct Stiles’ stance. “Right leg forward and,” he tapped one of Stiles’ fingers, “only use three fingers.”

“Like this?” Stiles said, correcting his positioning.

“Yes, but relax.” Derek placed his hand on the small of Stiles’ back and crowded behind him, and well, that definitely didn’t make Stiles relax. He was hyperaware of Derek’s body pressed against his back, of how Derek’s hand was resting low on his back, of Derek’s breath blowing against his ear. “Can you do that? Relax?”

“I’m never relaxed.”

Derek laughed, and he was close enough that Stiles could feel the vibrations through his chest. He placed his hand over Stiles’, rubbing Stiles’ fingers in an attempt to loosen them before covering his hand. Stiles stared at their hands, at how much larger Derek’s hand was, at how wide his fingers were compared to his thinner, longer ones. Stiles didn’t miss the way Derek’s thumb slowly moved back and forth from the base of his thumb to his wrist.

“Now,” Derek said quietly in his ear, “Keep your eye on the board, keep the dart aimed up, keep your hand relaxed, and,” Derek moved their hands and arms in a practice motion, “release.” Derek ran him through it again, then said, “This time, release.” Derek led Stiles through it yet again, and when he threw the dart, this time, he let go. The dart sailed through the air and landed on the board. “Bullseye.”

Stiles turned his head. “Not quite a bullseye.” He immediately noticed how close they were, his face only inches from Derek’s. Derek’s eyes were bright behind his lenses, and his eyes drifted down to look at Stiles’ mouth before flicking back up.

“Try again,” Derek said, stepping away and causing Stiles to stumble a few steps. When Stiles threw the dart, he hit the board again. “See? You’ve got it.”

“Thanks,” Stiles said, slightly breathless.

Derek nodded and took a drink from his glass, and Stiles was pretty sure there was a flush on the back of Derek’s neck.

They continued playing darts for awhile, and then Derek suggested one more game of pool. Derek didn’t touch him again, and Stiles felt disappointed. He knew it was stupid, but things had just seemed different tonight, like maybe Derek was attracted to him, too, and perhaps wanted to be more than just friends. But since showing him how to throw a dart, Derek had stayed a careful distance away from Stiles.

After Derek returned from the bar with the tab, Stiles asked, “How much do I owe you?”

Derek waved him off. “My treat.”

“Dude, we had four beers a piece, plus dinner. How much do I owe you?”

Derek didn’t look at him as he slipped on his jacket. “I’ve already settled the tab. It was my idea to come here, and plus, I owed you dinner, remember?” Stiles wanted to press the issue, but Derek was already walking out of the bar. As he followed Derek to his car, he tried not to read too much into Derek buying his dinner and drinks.

They were quiet on the ride back to Stiles’ apartment. The beer had made Stiles sleepy, and he honestly wasn’t sure what to say. His entire body tingled from the tension he felt in the air, but he was afraid it was all in his head. He just wanted to go home and fall asleep. Maybe everything would make more sense in the morning.

Derek pulled into a spot in front of Stiles’ building and put the car in park. “I had fun tonight,” he said, twisting in his seat.

“I did, too,” Stiles said. “Thanks for getting me out. I needed it. I spend too much time in the store.”

Derek smiled at him, and Stiles felt his heart jump in his chest. Derek looked like he was about to say something else, but stopped himself. Stiles reached for the door handle. “Well, thanks again.” Derek nodded. “I’ll see you later.”

“Goodnight, Stiles.”

“Night.”

Stiles got out of the car, his mind racing and body buzzing. It was after eleven when he entered his apartment, so he got undressed and crawled into bed. By the time he calmed down and the buzzing under his skin stopped, it was almost midnight.

*

Every Friday morning, Stiles went to the Rotary Club breakfast. He didn’t really know anyone well, mostly because everyone was so much older than him, but all the business leaders in Beacon Hills were part of Rotary. Since he owned the town bookstore, that included him.

He sat at his usual table in the back with Mr. Han, the seventy-something owner of the antique shop next to Stiles’, and Mrs. Buford, the eighty-something eccentric who owned the flower shop. He was eating his pancakes and scrolling through his phone when someone sat down next to him.

“Stiles, right?” Talia Hale asked him.

Stiles looked around to see if maybe she was speaking to someone else named Stiles. “Yes?”

She smiled warmly as she picked up her fork. “I thought I’d come over and eat with you. You looked a bit lonely.”

“It’s cool,” Stiles said. “The food’s worth sitting here awkwardly during the meeting.”

Talia smiled as she cut her pancakes into tiny chunks. “I confess I do have a tiny ulterior motive.” Stiles waited, curious. “You’ve become a regular name around my household.” At this, Stiles’ brows scrunched in confusion. “I believe you’re friends with my son, Derek.”

Stiles’ mouth dropped open. “You’re Derek’s mom?” he exclaimed.

Talia nodded. “I am. He talks about you a lot. As does my granddaughter. I can’t wrestle that bookmark you gave her at story time away from her.” Stiles smiled and took a bite. “She was quite smitten with you. Though, she claimed you were a dog.”

Stiles laughed. “Oh, I had my face painted for story time. I was supposed to be a dog.”

“That makes more sense,” she said, “though I wouldn’t put it past Sally to make it up.” Stiles didn’t know what to say, so he shoved another piece of pancake into his mouth. “Derek tells me you two had a game night.”

“He told you about that?” Stiles asked.

Talia nodded. “He really seemed to enjoy it.”

“Yeah, it was fun. Derek’s great. He comes into the shop a lot and buys books. He really likes to read.”

“He takes after his father,” Talia smiled. “His father reads constantly. All of us love to read, but Derek and my husband always have their noses stuck in a book.”

“I’m like that, too,” Stiles said. “I’m always reading something. I’m usually doing things one-handed, trying to multi-task while I read. My dad forbade me to cook and read anymore after I accidentally set a paper towel on fire, burnt some chicken and set off the fire alarm, and cut my finger while using a mandolin.”

Talia laughed. “You sound like Derek. He does the same thing, though he’s not as clumsy as you seem to be.” Her eyes twinkled as she looked at him, and Stiles could see the family resemblance. Derek had his mother’s smile, and that same spark of mischief in his eyes. “Your father is the sheriff, isn’t he?”

Stiles nodded, swallowing orange juice as he set the cup back on the table. “Yes. That’s my pops.”

“I know him. He’s a good man.”

“Thank you,” Stiles said, touched.

The president called the meeting to order, so Stiles’ bizarre conversation with Talia Hale ended. He kept glancing over at her during the meeting, wondering why she bothered to talk to him, or why Derek told her enough about him that she went out of her way to speak to him. Added to what happened the night before, Stiles was more confused than ever.

After the meeting was adjourned, Stiles stood up, and Talia Hale walked out with him. “I’m so glad I finally got to officially meet you,” she said.

“Me, too,” Stiles said.

“You’re as lovely as Derek described,” she said. “You should come with Derek to the house one day. We have an enormous library that I’m sure you’d love. I’m sure he’d love to show it to you.”

“Um…okay?” Stiles replied. This day just kept getting weirder and weirder.

“Have a good day, Stiles,” Talia said, grabbing his hand and squeezing it. Stiles walked to his car, unable to believe he just had breakfast with Derek’s mom. What was weirder was that she seemed ecstatic to meet him.

Maybe the whole family was just weird.

*

Derek worked long shifts over the weekend. The state park system had a calendar chock full of events, so Derek led multiple hikes, took out a few kayak groups, and spent Saturday night camping with a beginners camping group. It was a great weekend, and despite the cold temperatures, he didn’t mind being outside at all.

Monday was family dinner night, so Derek slept as late as he could and lounged around the house in his underwear until he had to get ready to drive to his parents’ house.

When everyone gathered on the porch while the food finished baking in the oven, Derek found everyone watching him, except for Sally who was running around the yard with his parents’ Husky. It was odd, even for his family. “What?” he finally asked.

Laura was the first to speak. A smile broke across her face, and she looked positively giddy. “We met Stiles,” she told him excitedly. He felt all the blood drain from his face. “Cora and I went to the shop.”

“You what?” Derek exclaimed. “Why in the hell would you do that?”

“Because he’s your boyfriend,” Cora stated, giving him a look that implied she thought he was an idiot.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Derek growled.

“Sure looked like your boyfriend,” Josh said. “You two did not look like two people who were just friends in that picture Connor sent.”

“Connor said Stiles was definitely interested,” Laura added, “and that you acted like you were more than interested.”

“And I heard you two were pretty cozy down at The Corner Pub.” Cora smirked triumphantly.

“Who in the hell told you that?” Derek asked.

“Erica saw you down there,” Cora told him with a shrug. “Asked me who your boyfriend was.”

Derek stood up and glared. He pointed at each of them, unable to form words he was so angry. Finally, he yelled, “Stay the hell out of my love life!” He stormed inside the house, slamming the door behind him. He immediately headed towards the library, slamming that door shut behind him, too.

Couldn’t his family just leave him alone? He didn’t need their interference, and they crossed a line by seeking out Stiles. His life wasn’t some show for them to watch, and it also wasn’t something they could manipulate and arrange like a game. Their meddling had gotten out of hand. No matter his feelings for Stiles, they had no right.

Derek paused, his hand perched on the spine of a book.

No matter his feelings for Stiles.

Where had that come from? He didn’t have feelings for Stiles – did he? Stiles was a friend, that was all. But as he stood there, thinking about being around Stiles, listening to Stiles’ laugh, and watching Stiles as he rambled passionately about something, he couldn’t ignore that there was something there.

Derek felt a tug in his chest he hadn’t felt since Paige. He thought about the way Stiles’ body felt close to his the other night, the way Stiles watched him like he was fascinating, frustrating, and amazing at the same time. The way Stiles flailed around when he talked, always moving, those hands and long fingers captivating and annoying at the same time; the quiet stillness Stiles possessed when he spoke of his mother. The way Stiles’ eyes lit up whenever Derek looked at him, the way his lashes fanned against his cheek when he closed his eyes, the way his lips distracted Derek almost every time they were together.

The way Stiles made him feel whenever he was around him, like his usual happiness had been amplified to ten billion. Like he was the luckiest man in the entire world.

“Oh god,” Derek whispered.

I’m falling for Stiles.

Derek was sitting on the edge of the couch, elbows on his knees and his hands laced and hanging between his knees, when the door to the library opened. He didn’t even look up, just continued staring at his shoes.

“Are you okay?” his mom asked as she sat on the couch beside him. She placed a hand on his arm, and he leaned into the touch.

“It’s not funny,” Derek started, voice rough, “what they’re doing. It’s my life, not some project they can check off a to-do list. I humored everyone with the blind dates, but interfering with Stiles?” Derek twisted his hands together angrily. “I won’t accept it.”

“It’s because you care about him, isn’t it?” Talia asked softly.

Derek’s shoulders sagged as he closed his eyes and sighed. “I didn’t want them to be right,” he said quietly. “We were just friends, or at least I thought we were. But then we suddenly weren’t, and I never even realized it.”

“Oh sweetheart.” Talia slid her hand up Derek’s arm and across his shoulders to pull him into her embrace. Derek easily leaned into her, resting his head on her shoulder. “All of you are so different, despite being so alike,” she said as she stroked her hand across his hair. “You’ve always been so happy with your life, your family. You never had a lot friends growing up, but that was okay because you had your family. You never dated much, just played sports, read, and hung out with Laura and Connor. Then you met Paige, but you were still the same quiet, content Derek.” She kissed the top of his head. “I’m sorry for starting this whole mess by setting you up on a blind date. I just thought it would be fun, and sometimes I think you should go out more with people who aren’t your family.”

“I have Boyd,” Derek said, bristling slightly.

“Like I said, people who aren’t your family. Erica and Boyd are basically family.”

“Mom…”

“I know,” she sighed. Derek straightened, and she gave him a small smile. “Derek, you’re perfect just like you are. There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert or preferring solitude or a small group of people.”

Derek glanced at the door and scowled. “Tell them that.”

“They mean well,” Talia stated. “They love you. And they’re your siblings, so they make it their mission to drive you insane.” She gave him a wry smile. “You forget who my brother is.”

Derek snorted. He sat there for a moment, just processing everything his mother said and this new revelation. “I think I do care about him,” Derek finally said. “Quite a bit.”

“Obviously,” Talia said, and Derek turned to her sharply. “If you’ve deemed anyone worth your time, he must be extremely special.” Derek couldn’t help the shy grin that crossed his face and ducked his head. “I fear I do have a confession.” Derek raised his eyes with dread. “I ate breakfast with Stiles at the Rotary breakfast on Friday.”

Derek’s eyes narrowed. “Et tu, Mom?”

Talia had the decency to look contrite. “I couldn’t help myself, Derek. He was eating all alone at a table, and you’d said so many nice things about him. I just wanted to meet the man who’d enraptured my Derek.” She raised a hand to cup his cheek. “He’s lovely, Derek. I understand what you see in him.”

Derek sighed. “I don’t know what I want to do. Except kill my siblings.”

Talia kissed his cheek and then stood up. “Just no blood on the carpet.” She gave him a mischievous smirk and left him alone to his thoughts.

He was still staring at his shoes, grinning as he thought about the way Stiles chewed his lip in concentration while he played a game, when the door opened again. He didn’t have time to look up before a body barreled into his and he was knocked back on the couch, another weight landing on top of him a moment later. He blinked up, dazed, and found Laura lying on top of him, Cora squeezed between the back of the couch and half on top of Laura. He glowered at them, and Cora flicked his nose.

“I’m not speaking to either of you,” Derek said.

“We know,” Cora said.

“That’s why we’re gonna hold you down until you do speak to us,” Laura said.

“Except you just technically spoke to us.”

“Semantics.” Laura smiled, then leaned down to plant a wet, smacking kiss on Derek’s forehead. “We’re sorry, Derek.”

“Kinda sorry,” Cora said. “Though I still don’t know what we did wrong. We just bought a fucking book. We barely even spoke to Stiles. Laura totally held herself back. Didn’t even mention you.”

“Wow,” Derek said. “You’re a regular saint.” Derek grunted in pain when Cora kneed his shin.

“Hey, Mom said…what the fuck?” All three siblings turned to the door where Josh was staring at them. “This is disturbing on so many levels.”

“Fuck off,” Cora said, shifting and elbowing Derek in the spleen so she could flick him off.

“Come join us!” Laura exclaimed. Josh shrugged, then ran over to the couch and climbed on top of them.

“Ow, that’s my back, dickweed.”

“Josh, I think you broke my femur.”

“I can’t breathe,” Derek said, trying to figure out a way not to die under the weight of three siblings.

“If you fart on me, I’ll kill you,” Cora said.

“Great idea,” Josh said, starting to flip around onto his back.

“Dinner’s ready!” Connor yelled before entering the room. “Oh, this is perfect. I’m taking a picture of this.” Connor got out his camera as Cora yelled at Josh and threatened to rip him apart. Despite feeling like his stomach was being hollowed out, Derek burst out laughing.

“I think we broke Derek,” Laura said.

“Got it,” Connor said, crossing the room and looking down at his younger siblings. “Can I join the Hale cheerleading pyramid?”

“Come on,” Josh said, “Help me fart on them.”

“You’re so nasty,” Laura said.

Derek just continued laughing at the absurdity. His siblings were the most obnoxious people on this planet, but he loved them more than anything. He clearly had bad taste in people.

Connor started to get climb on the couch, but changed his mind at the last minute. “Okay,” he said, adopting what they all teasingly referred to as his dad voice, “get off Derek before he dies.”

“I think we’ve cut off too much circulation to his brain,” Cora said as she rolled closer to the back of the couch and tried to fit in the space between Derek and the couch. Josh stood up and Laura pushed herself to her hands and knees and crawled to the end of the couch. Josh sat on Derek and Cora’s legs as Derek slung his arm around Cora, who cuddled up against him. “You won’t fart on me,” she said. “Because you’re my nice brother.”

Derek rolled his eyes and laughed again.

“Dinner is getting cold!” Talia yelled from down the hall. “I didn’t make dinner just to have you – “ She stopped talking when she entered the room. “Do I want to know?”

“We apologized to Derek,” Laura said like it was obvious.

Derek snorted. “Barely.”

“Mom, look at this picture I got,” Connor said, swiping his thumb across his screen and then handing the phone to Talia.

Talia shook her head, but she was smiling. “Sometimes, it’s hard to remember you five are adults with jobs and families of your own. You act like children.”

“Hey!” Connor said, offended. “I was not involved in this.”

“Because you’re boring!” Laura yelled.

“Where’s your dad jeans?” Cora asked. “And dad jokes?” Connor flipped her off, and Talia sighed.

Sally came into the room then. “CUDDLES!” She exclaimed as she ran to the couch and climbed up to squeeze between Josh and Laura.

“Hold on,” Connor said. “New picture.” He snapped again.

“Your father, Anna, and Luke are all waiting downstairs.”

“They can wait,” Josh said.

“They know what they married into,” Laura grinned.

Talia rolled her eyes and shook her head. As she left the room, she said, “If you’re not down in five minutes, no one’s getting food.”

“She’s bluffing,” Josh stated.

“We really are sorry, Derek,” Connor said.

“You’re just so fun to mess with,” Cora said, reaching up and ruffling his hair. “You get so upset about everything. It’s hilarious.”

“Cora,” Connor warned.

“Yes, Dad,” Cora said, hiding her laughter in Derek’s chest.

“Why are we cuddling?” Sally asked, looking at her aunt and uncle.

“We won’t bother Stiles anymore,” Laura said. “Or set you up on more blind dates.”

“STILES?” Sally exclaimed. “He is the best! He’s a dog, Aunt Laura. A DOG!!”

“He’s not really a dog,” Laura replied.

“I didn’t stalk him,” Josh said, “and I didn’t set you up with anyone, so I have nothing to apologize for.”

“You’re just a slacker with no vision,” Cora said.

“I think I feel a fart coming on.”

“EW GROSS, UNCLE JOSH. THAT’S NOT POLITE, IT’S SMELLY!” Sally yelled, and everyone burst out laughing.

“Come on, let’s go eat before Mom kills us,” Connor said. He held his hand out. “Come on, Sally.”

She didn’t move. “But cuddles.”

“Sally.” He gave her a stern look, and she sighed heavily as she slid off the couch.

“I want cuddles,” she grumbled as she raced past Connor.

“No running in the house!” he shouted after her.

Josh and Laura stood up then, and Derek waited as Cora carefully climbed off of him before getting off the couch himself. Laura hooked her arm through his and said, “No more interfering.”

“Easy for you to say now that I’m interested in Stiles,” he said.

Laura gasped. “What? Really?”

Cora asked, “Did he just admit that I was right?”

Derek glared at her. Laura said, “Don’t antagonize him.”

“It’s what she does best,” Derek said.

Laura kissed his cheek again. “I’m happy for you. He seems really nice.”

“Nothing’s happening yet,” Derek pointed out.

“Give it time,” Connor said as they entered the dining room. Derek tried to concentrate on dinner, but he could only think about Stiles.

*

Derek contemplated what to do about Stiles all week. By the time Friday rolled around, he was determined. And a confused mess. His heart raced in his chest when he entered the bookshop. It had been over a week since he’d been there, the longest he’d stayed away since he’d started up his friendship with Stiles. He adjusted his glasses and strode towards the counter.

Stiles was there. But so were his friends. He recognized Isaac from book club, Allison from story time, and another man he didn’t know. Derek deflated a little as he approached the counter.

“Derek!” Stiles exclaimed, a huge smile spreading over his face when he saw Derek. As Derek studied him, he wondered if Stiles always looked this happy to see him, if his face always lit up like this. Or maybe Derek was projecting, because he was pretty sure his smile threatened to split his face in two. “Where have you been, man? I thought you’d died in a horrible kayaking accident. I asked your mom when I saw her at Rotary this morning, and she just laughed at me. That seems to be a Hale trait, apparently, laughing at me.”

God, Derek had missed that damn rambling.

“Busy with work,” Derek shrugged. “Had to help Connor and Anna with Sally a few nights.” Derek didn’t tell him that he was purposefully staying away because he was too chicken and couldn’t face him yet.

“Did your family, um, set you up on any more blind dates?” Stiles tried to sound casual, but Derek noticed the way he was scratching his cheek and not looking directly at Derek by looking over his shoulder.

“No. There was a big fight though, and they promised they’d quit,” Derek told him. “So, victory?”

“Awesome,” Stiles said, grinning. “Glad that worked out for you.”

“So,” Derek said, looking past Stiles for the first time to find three pairs of eyes staring at him. Isaac was smirking, Allison was grinning, and the other guy was eyeing him distrustfully. “What are you up to?”

“Oh,” Stiles said, waving a hand behind him. “They’re helping me wrap and decorate more blind date books.”

Derek really wanted to ask Stiles to dinner. He wanted to ask him out, but he just couldn’t with his friends there, watching. But he couldn’t just do nothing. So, he rapped his knuckles against the wood and said, “We should have a game night or something soon. I think we’re overdue.”

Stiles nodded ardently, bottom lip trapped between his teeth. Derek wanted to coax that lip out and kiss it until it was red and swollen. “Yeah, totally. Sounds great.”

“Um, when are you off? I was thinking we could do it at my place, because, you know, we’re always here, and…stuff.” Stuff???? Derek wanted to beat his head against the counter. The downside of not dating was that when the time came and he wanted to date, he was out of practice and had no idea what he was doing. Thirty-two was too old to be acting like an awkward teenager asking his first date to the school dance.

Stiles’ face scrunched. “I don’t know. I’ll have to check the – “

“I’ll cover for you,” Allison piped up. “Tomorrow night.”

Stiles turned to look at her. “No, it’s okay. I – “

“I insist,” she said with a smile.

“Okay.” Stiles nodded and turned to Derek. “Okay. How’s tomorrow?”

Derek smiled. “Tomorrow is great. Um, bring games. I don’t have any.”

“Shocker.”

Derek wrote down his address and cell phone number on the back of a flier. As Derek left the store, he felt like he was walking on air.

*

Derek stood staring at the meal he’d cooked and felt like a complete tool.

He had cooked for Stiles. Why had he done that? How stupid was he to cook a fucking meal for this guy before even asking him out? If his oh-so-obvious intentions weren’t obvious enough before, this was like a flashing neon sign saying “LOOK I CAN PROVIDE FOR YOU PICK ME.”

Derek glanced at the time on his cell phone. Stiles was going to be there at any moment, so he didn’t have time to hide the evidence. He just hoped he could play it off as casual instead of some attempt at being romantic (which it totally had been).

When he saw the headlights from Stiles’ Jeep coming down the driveway, he ran into the bedroom and double checked himself in the mirror. He’d put on jeans, a Henley, and styled his hair. He’d even dabbed on a bit of cologne. “You can do this,” he told his reflection.

As the knock landed on the door, he realized that, no, in fact, he could not do this.

Derek wiped his hands on his jeans, pushed his glasses up his nose, and opened the door. Stiles was standing on the other side, and Derek’s heart immediately flip-flopped in his chest. Stiles was wearing his usual graphic tee, hoodie, and khakis combo, his hair purposefully mussed. Derek thought he looked perfect. Stiles held up a 6-pack of beer and a stack of board games. “My contribution.”

“Thanks,” Derek said, stepping aside to let Stiles inside. “Did you find it okay?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, “but dude, you weren’t joking when you said you lived out in the middle of nowhere.”

“I like nature,” Derek told him as he took the beer. “And isolation.”

“This I know about you.” Stiles grinned as Derek led him on a tour through the house. They dropped the games off in the living room, then continued through the house. “It’s not much, but I like it.”

“No, it’s great!” Stiles said. “Feels just like where a forest ranger should live.” Derek rolled his eyes as they entered the kitchen. As he placed the beer in the fridge, he heard Stiles gasp. “Did you…cook?”

Derek hoped his face wasn’t the shade of a cherry. “Yeah. It’s hard to get take out because no one will deliver this far out and it gets cold by the time you bring it home.” He shrugged as Stiles went over to the stove and peeked into the pots.

“Please tell me this pasta sauce is from a jar.” He glanced at Derek, who stared at it uncomfortably. “You make homemade pasta sauce??”

“It’s my mom’s recipe,” Derek said. “It’s really simple, actually.”

Stiles snorted. “After my mom, I used to cook for my dad. I cooked every night through college, and I never once made homemade pasta sauce.” He looked into another pot. “Please tell me the pasta isn’t homemade, too.”

Derek smirked. “No, I bought it at the grocery store. I did go out back and slaughter the pig for the sausage, though.”

Stiles gave him a sarcastic laugh. “Very funny, mountain man.”

“Go ahead, eat up,” Derek said as he grabbed two sodas from the fridge. “We can watch a movie or something while we eat. Play afterwards?”

“Yeah, that sounds great.” Stiles started piling linguini on his plate.

They sat on the couch and brought up Netflix. Derek let Stiles scroll through the choices, finally stopping on some action flick. As they ate, Stiles went between moaning about how good the food was – “I’m gonna kidnap you and force you to make pasta sauce all day long” – and providing commentary on the movie.

After they were done with the meal, Derek grabbed them beers as they finished watching the movie. Now that he wasn’t preoccupied by food, he was able to just obsess about Stiles sitting on the couch next to him. They were sitting closer than what was normal for two grown men, Derek having sat back down even closer to Stiles after returning from the kitchen. Their knees were touching, and when Stiles flailed at the television, he brushed up against Derek.

Derek wanted to say something to Stiles so badly, but the longer they sat there, Stiles deconstructing the plot, science, and characters, Derek found himself too terrified to mess up what they had. He’d rather keep things like they were instead of risk messing up things permanently.

So, he just sat there, itching to touch Stiles but holding himself back.

*

Stiles was pretty sure this was a date. Or something like a date. After Derek had left the store the night before, Isaac, Allison, and Scott gave him shit until they went home. But they’d all decided that it sounded like Derek was asking Stiles on a not-date.

Stiles didn’t believe them until Derek had opened the door and been wearing his blind date Henley. And tight jeans. When Stiles walked past Derek, he realized he was wearing his blind date cologne, too. And Derek cooked for him! He almost threw his arms around Derek and kissed him right there on the spot. But Derek seemed slightly uncomfortable, and Stiles thought maybe it was because they were friends. Or maybe because he seemed uncomfortable about dating in general. So, Stiles just ate and watched the movie and enjoyed being with Derek.

He’d wondered if he’d done something to push Derek away. He hadn’t come to the store all week, which wasn’t like him, but then again, he had no blind dates. That thought had been sour, the idea that Derek only wanted to spend time with Stiles if he was running from an unwanted date. But Stiles talked himself out of that pretty quickly. He and Derek were friends, that much he knew for a fact.

Talia Hale had sat with him again at the Rotary breakfast. She asked him about his work, his interests, his dad. He asked her about her family, her husband, and her work. Stiles found himself enjoying talking to her. She was easy to talk to like he expected from a mother with five kids, but also witty, smart, and sarcastic. The more time he spent with her, the more Stiles saw from where Derek got a lot of his personality.

“Is Derek okay?” Stiles had asked her before they left. “I mean, you seem fine so I’m sure he didn’t drown in a kayak or get eaten by a grizzly bear, but I haven’t seen him this week and…” He trailed off and shrugged.

Talia looked confused, but she laughed before giving him a reassuring smile. “Derek’s fine. He’s had a lot of work stuff going on. We’ve had to move around family dinner night a few times to accommodate it.”

But Derek had finally shown up, and Stiles just hoped he didn’t look as obvious about his feelings as he felt. Seeing Derek walking up the counter had been like seeing the sun rise.

And yes, that’s where Stiles was at. Spouting cheesy poetic drivel in his head about Derek. God, he was stupid. Stupid for Derek.

They sat beside each other on the couch, barely touching, but close enough that Stiles could concentrate only on how Derek’s knee bumped his and how close their hands rested when Stiles laid his on the couch between them.

But that was as close as they got. Stiles flailed his arms around a lot, giving him a reason to touch Derek, and when Derek got them beer from the fridge, Stiles scooted over a little before he returned.

They watched two movies instead of playing board games, and the entire time Stiles’ body tingled to the point of distraction. Just having Derek that near, barely touching him, while he smelled so good…Stiles had some difficulties paying attention to the movie. He just wanted to rub his face into Derek’s neck and then climb into his lap and…

He stopped that train of thought right there. The last thing he needed tonight was an awkward boner.

When the second movie ended, Stiles stretched and glanced at the time on his phone. “I should be going,” he said. “It’s late.”

“Okay,” Derek said. Stiles didn’t want to leave. But the night was weird, and after two movies, he felt a bit weird, and he just couldn’t take the longing any more.

Derek walked Stiles out to his car. “It’s so dark,” Stiles commented as he pulled his hoodie closer around him and glanced at the sky. “So many stars. Sometimes, living in town, I forget what they look like.”

Derek stared at the sky, and Stiles noted the relaxed and blissful look on his face. “I couldn’t imagine living anywhere I couldn’t see them. Sometimes I just come out and look at the sky.”

Stiles pointed above. “I know Orion, that’s about it.”

Derek stepped behind Stiles and raised his arm, pointing. Stiles could barely focus on the stars because Derek was pressed against him, his warm breath against his ear. “There, right beside Orion? That’s Gemini.” He moved, which brought his arm closer around Stiles. “Beside that is Cancer, and then beside that is Leo.”

“You would know all that,” Stiles breathed, his heart rabbiting in his chest. “Mountain man.”

Derek laughed, a warm gust against his skin. “Do you see them?”

Stiles leaned back, pretending to get a better look but pressing more into Derek’s space until he was leaning against his chest. “I’ll be honest. I just see a bunch of dots.”

“I’ll have to draw you a map then,” Derek said quietly, and Stiles couldn’t suppress the shiver that ran through him.

He nodded, and said, “Okay, yeah. Sounds great.” Neither of them moved for a few moments, then finally, Derek stepped away and Stiles moved towards his car. “Um, thanks for dinner. It was delicious.”

Derek smiled. “Anytime.”

Stiles got into his car and tried to calm his pounding heart all the way home.

*

Derek texted Stiles on Monday. It was a selfie in the middle of a forest, the edge of an ATV visible in the corner. The caption read, Greetings from Mountain Man.

Stiles rolled his eyes at the lameness, but replied by taking a selfie of himself in front of a stack of books. Greetings from Bookworm.

I think I’m the bookworm.

Debatable. I own a bookstore. That counts for something.

Circumstantial evidence. I say we throw it out of court.

Stiles added an emoji and typed, You are so lame!

Takes one to know one.

I can’t talk to you anymore. This is too terrible.

After that, they texted every day. Stupid stuff, like what they were doing at work and what they were eating for that meal. They talked about books, because as often as they’d hung out, they hadn’t discussed them to Stiles’ satisfaction. He learned that Derek had a soft spot for crime novels, supernatural fiction dealing with werewolves, and classics. Stiles admitted to reading tons of YA, fantasy, and mystery novels.

Unlike Catan Dave, Derek didn’t make fun of him for reading YA. Instead, he texted, Cora loves YA. I’ve read some of the ones she’s recommended. I’ve enjoyed most of them. I don’t tend to like the supernatural romances, though.

Even about werewolves?

Nope. Too over the top.

They sent each other selfies multiple times a day. Derek fixing a hiking trail, Stiles dressed up like a fox for story time, and Stiles lying on the couch curled in a blanket, cold and watching television.

Down side of lots of windows? Too much cold air.

I think you need warming up.

Is that an offer?

The next text was a picture, and when Stiles opened it, he almost choked on air. It was a selfie of Derek shirtless and in bed, wearing his glasses with his hair soft and mussed.

You don’t have on a shirt.

Great work, Sherlock. Those mystery novels are paying off!

Don’t be a dick. I just wasn’t expecting to be graced with muscles. Were you trying to warm me up by showing me how hot you are?

Derek replied with an unhappy emoji, then texted, You like muscles?

Stiles stared at the text for a couple of minutes before replying. They were flirting. Derek was flirting with him. Derek sent him a shirtless selfie and was now flirting with him. Stiles tried to keep his head about himself, but he felt like dancing around the apartment.

While I don’t possess any myself, I see the appeal on certain individuals.

I don’t like muscles.

Then why do you have so many?

Derek sent an annoyed emoji, then wrote, I mean I don’t find them that attractive.

Really? That’s hard to believe.

I like my men tall and thin with pretty eyes.

Stiles grinned so hard it hurt his face as he texted back something about the television show he was watching to change the subject.

*

Stiles was reading a book on Sunday afternoon, the store empty, when he heard the bell on the front door jingle. He looked up and saw Derek heading his way. A smile immediately spread across his face.

“Hey, long time, no see,” Stiles said. They’d been texting constantly the past week, but Derek hadn’t shown up at the store.

Derek didn’t say anything or even smile. Stiles’ face scrunched in worry as Derek readjusted his glasses awkwardly, then set something on the counter and pushed it forward.

Stiles glanced at it in confusion. It was a small, rectangular package wrapped in brown paper, words written on the front with a sharpie.

  • Forest Ranger
  • Dark Hair, Stubble, and Glasses
  • Can be grumpy
  • Can seem quiet
  • Loves board games
  • Loves reading and the outdoors
  • Has a crazy family
  • Hates blind dates
  • Finally met someone who isn’t a waste of his time

Will you be my date?

Stiles gaped at the package. It was a blind date with a book. A blind date with a book asking him out.

Stiles’ heart pounded in his chest, a whooshing in his ears as he read and reread the words.

Finally met someone who isn’t a waste of his time.

Him. Derek meant him.

Stiles lifted his eyes and found Derek staring at him nervously. Derek shrugged, then said, “I didn’t know how else to ask. It, ah, it seemed fitting.”

“Yes,” Stiles said, nodding his head. “Yes, yes, yes. I will go on a date with you. I will go on ten thousand dates with you.”

Derek gave him a half-smile. “That’s quite a commitment.”

“I’m very serious about my blind dates with books.”

“So, you really want this?” Derek asked. “You wanna date?”

“Absolutely,” Stiles said. “And hopefully have some sex. It’s been a long time since I’ve had sex.”

Derek’s face flushed, but he smirked. “I hear on good authority you like muscles.”

“And someone told me you like tall skinny guys, so…” Stiles grinned, and Derek looked shyly at the floor. It was the most adorable thing he’d ever seen.

Derek stood there staring at the floor, neither of them speaking. Finally, Stiles said, “Well, this is awkward. How about some board games?”

Derek looked up, relieved. “Yes.” He walked towards the chairs. “It’s a good thing you’re better at this stuff than me.”

“I’m not better,” Stiles said, “I just have practice at barreling through awkward situations.”

“Good thing one of us does.”

*

Tuesday night, Derek and Stiles went on their first date. Or, their first official first date. Because Stiles was still pretty sure that the night at Derek’s house counted as a date, and maybe even the bar and definitely that game night last Sunday when Derek asked him out. But this was an official date.

And they were hiking. Not just hiking, but hiking in the dark.

“I think killing me on our first date is really sucky of you,” Stiles said as he followed closely behind Derek. “And probably bad luck.” The moon was high in the sky, full and illuminating the path. Stiles was still freaked out. There were things in the woods. Things that could eat them.

“But it’ll be so easy to bury your body out here,” Derek countered.

“Not helping,” Stiles said.

“Stiles, I do this for a living,” Derek said, pausing and turning around to face him. He readjusted the pack full of camping supplies on his back. “I know these woods and trails better than I do Beacon Hills.”

“You said this wasn’t an official trail,” Stiles continued as Derek started walking again. “People aren’t supposed to be on it, and definitely not at night.”

“I can be on the trails. Perk of the job.” Derek sounded delighted, but Stiles was rethinking this whole thing. Derek had suggested they go for a moonlight hike and then camping in his favorite spot. At the time, it had sounded romantic, especially with the way Derek had been looking at him. But now…Stiles was thinking he should not give into Derek too easily. Obviously, it ended with him trekking through the woods just after sunset on a winter night.

The night was cold, but at least it was not too cold since he was bundled up. Stiles had borrowed clothes from Derek, an outdoor weather jacket, some gloves, a hat, proper socks. At least he was warm. One silver lining.

“We’re here,” Derek said, dropping the pack to the ground. They were in a clearing near the top of one of the shorter mountains, the spot surrounded by tall, overhanging trees. Derek reached out and grabbed Stiles’ hand. “Come here, I wanna show you something.”

Derek led Stiles to the edge of the clearing. When Stiles got there, he realized they weren’t at the edge of a clearing, but on a cliff overlooking a valley. There were other mountains in the distance, the full moon round and bright in the sky. A few lights from houses and towns dotted the landscape, but mostly it was silver-grey shadows.

“Wow,” Stiles breathed, afraid to disturb the perfect stillness. “This is beautiful.”

Derek squeezed his hand. “Now do you see why I wanted to share this with you?”

“I concede,” Stiles said. “For now. I’m still waiting to get mauled by a bear.”

“You won’t get mauled by a bear,” Derek said as he tugged Stiles back towards the campsite. “Probably just a mountain lion.”

The tent was a small popup, so Derek had it up in no time. Stiles pumped up the air mattress inside the tent and spread out blankets while Derek got a small fire going. Stiles joined him on a log, and Derek handed him a long stick.

“You better have marshmallows in your pack,” Stiles said. “You promised me a proper camping experience.”

Derek rolled his eyes, but pulled out a bag of large marshmallows, followed by chocolate and graham crackers. “Told you I’m good at my job.”

“Oh, you’re the best!” Stiles excitedly opened the marshmallow bag, shoved an entire one into his mouth, and then speared one on a stick.

As Stiles put his s’more together, Derek frowned and said, “You’re doing it wrong.”

Stiles stared at him and took an exaggerated bite, making sure to get chocolate and marshmallow around his mouth. “Mmm, this is perfect.”

“The ratio is all off,” Derek protested.

“It’s a s’more, Derek, not a soufflé,” Stiles argued, his mouth full of the remnants of his s’more. “You can’t possibly screw it up.”

“Amateur.”

They bickered as they made s’mores, finally just making them for each other and exchanging. “Not enough chocolate,” Stiles said.

“I think the marshmallow is overtaking this entire thing,” Derek said as the white confection oozed from the corners and down his hand onto his wrist. “It’s the baby of the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.”

“The fact that you made that joke is totally hot,” Stiles said. “I’m really turned on right now.” As he looked at Derek struggling to contain the s’more Stiles made him, Stiles declared, “I am a s’more making god!”

Derek made them hot cocoa over the fire and then spread a blanket out on the ground as the fire died down. They lay on their backs covered by a quilt and stared up at the stars, the backs of their hands brushing against each other. Derek pointed out various constellations, then told him stories about camping with his family growing up.

“My dad worked too much for us to do stuff like this,” Stiles told him. “When he got a few days off, or a forced vacation so he wouldn’t lose his days, we just sat around the house and caught up on TV and stuff. Once when I was eleven, he took me and Scott to Disneyland. That was the best trip.” Stiles dropped his head to the side and found Derek smiling at him. “What?”

“Just you,” Derek said. “I’m looking forward to meeting your dad, though a little nervous because he’s the sheriff.”

“Just remember that the intimidation stuff is what he does for a living, and he’s mostly bluffing. Eventually, it’ll stop having an effect on you. Did on me.”

They talked about high school and college as they continued staring at the stars. Stiles lost track of how much time passed as they lay there. Although they were barely touching, just their hands, shoulders, and thighs, it was probably the most romantic night Stiles had ever spent with someone. Something about being out in the open like that, underneath the stars…Stiles thought he understood why Derek had wanted to share this with him.

“The stars are like my books,” Stiles said suddenly.

“What?”

“The stars for you are like my books. Trees, too. We’re surrounded by them all the time, we work around them, but they haven’t lost their magic. We keep turning to them, we stare at them for hours. Just being around them does something to us.” He rolled onto his side, propping himself on his elbow. “I get it. Tonight, I think I get you more than I ever have before.” He paused and stared at Derek for a few quiet moments. “So, thank you, for sharing this with me.”

Derek extended his hand, cupped Stiles’ cheek, then slid it so it was curled around his neck.

“I’m going to kiss you now,” Stiles declared as he started to lean down.

“Please,” Derek replied, voice low and husky.

Stiles pressed his lips against Derek’s gently, almost hesitantly. Derek’s lips were cold, but he gripped Stiles’ neck tighter and tugged him closer. He opened his mouth, and Stiles slowly slid his tongue inside. Derek’s mouth was hot, and Stiles found himself throwing a leg over Derek’s waist and scooting even closer.

They stayed like that for awhile, learning each other’s mouths. Derek was a slow kisser, taking his time as he swiped his tongue inside of Stiles’ mouth or pressed his lips to Stiles’. His kisses were wetter than Stiles expected, but he enjoyed the feel of them. Derek’s stubble left his lips and cheeks tingling, and he loved it. Actually, his entire body tingled, and he found himself carding his fingers through Derek’s hair and tugging on it gently.

“Stiles,” Derek moaned into his mouth, and Stiles did it again. “We should,” Derek paused as he kissed across Stiles’ cheek, “probably take this inside the tent.”

“Good idea,” Stiles replied, realizing he was slowly rutting against Derek, but felt Derek doing the same thing, his erection pressing against Stiles’ thigh. “Very good idea. It’s cold out here, and my dick won’t like that very much, and I won’t like that very much. I don’t need any shrinkage.”

Derek chuckled as he pulled away and went to stand up. The night felt even colder now that he wasn’t pressed against Derek, so he huddled against Derek for warmth. Derek wrapped an arm around his shoulders and kissed his temple. “Let me make sure this fire is out. You can go ahead to the tent. I’ll be right there.”

“Don’t be long,” Stiles called as he hurried towards it. “It’s freaking cold.”

Stiles sat inside the tent with his legs sticking out the opening as he took off his boots. He found his small bag of clothes and changed from his khakis into his sweat pants and added a sweatshirt over his hoodie and t-shirt. Derek joined him a few moments later, pausing to take off his boots before he crawled inside and zipped up the tent.

Stiles got between the blankets and waited for Derek to change into his sweats so he could join him beneath the blankets. “We’re so sexy,” Stiles joked, “sweats and layers. Ooh baby.”

“I’ll just have to keep you warm then, won’t I?” Derek asked, rolling on top of Stiles and caging him in.

“What do you have in mind?” Stiles asked, grinning.

Derek dropped his hips, and Stiles moaned and bucked as their erections bumped against each other. “A few things.”

“Is this what you normally do on your camping excursions?” Stiles asked as Derek settled himself between Stiles legs and started rolling his hips.

“Only occasionally,” Derek smirked, “but that costs extra.”

“I don’t know how I feel about dating a camping hooker.”

Derek rolled his eyes and brushed his lips across Stiles’ nose. “Shut up and kiss me.”

Stiles wrapped his arms around Derek and held him tightly as they kissed. Derek’s hips were thrusting against him, and Stiles was fully hard and aching, the press of Derek’s cock between the layers of clothes just a tease. It was slow and easy, and Stiles found himself enjoying it more than he had the last few quick, frantic hookups he’d had.

He liked the way Derek tasted, the way Derek smelled, the way he gently touched Stiles like he was something to be cherished and doted upon. He liked the feel of Derek’s weight above him, and the sounds he made when Stiles pushed his hips against him or tugged his bottom lip between his teeth.

“Stiles,” Derek said, his voice gravelly and quiet as it curled down Stiles’ spine. Derek was kissing along Stiles’ jaw, behind his ear, and down his neck, and then he sunk his teeth into the cord of Stiles’ neck, and Stiles moaned aloud. Derek bit and sucked at the spot, and Stiles knew he was going to have a mark, and the thought thrilled him. His fingers scratched at Derek’s back as he pressed his hips against Derek, searching for friction.

“I’m going to come in my pants if we don’t do something,” Stiles said a few moments later. “And I didn’t bring any other pants.”

Derek pushed himself up onto all fours, and Stiles made quick work of shoving his sweats and boxers down to his knees. When his cock was blissfully free, Derek was still struggling to get his clothes down one-handed, so Stiles reached up and helped him finish pulling them away.

Stiles was disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to get a good look at Derek’s cock like this, but then Derek resettled between Stiles’ legs, and Stiles didn’t care anymore and almost came on the spot when their cocks touched for the first time. “Fuck, Derek,” Stiles moaned as he lifted his hips so he could slide against Derek.

Derek kissed him hard as he reached between them and wrapped his fist around their cocks. Stiles mumbled incoherently into Derek’s mouth, trying to kiss and talk at the same time. He settled for more kissing and reached between his legs to help Derek.

Derek’s grip was firm and sure as he stroked their cocks, and Stiles tried to match his rhythm with his own hand. Stiles knew it wasn’t going to take long, especially with Derek’s thumb circling the tip of his cock, sliding around the small amount of precome. Stiles hooked a leg around Derek’s waist, threw his arm around Derek’s neck, and deepened the kiss. After a few more minutes, Stiles came between them, his mouth going slack as he rode out his orgasm.

“Fuck,” Derek mumbled against his mouth where he was panting. “So hot.”

Stiles’ hand had stopped moving, enjoying the aftershocks and his dick still twitching as Derek continued stroking their cocks. It didn’t take long before Derek was stilling and Stiles felt warmth hit his belly.

“Fuck,” Derek said again as he rested on top of Stiles. He pressed small kisses to Stiles’ face, gentle light presses, and Stiles hummed contently as he ran his fingers through Derek’s hair.

“That was…amazing.” Stiles opened his eyes and poked at Derek’s cheek until he raised up and looked down at him. Stiles smiled at Derek’s glasses, which were now askew on his face. He reached up to right them. “Hi.”

Derek smiled. “Hi.” He leaned down and kissed Stiles again, and they spent the next few minutes just lazily kissing and touching each other.

Derek eventually pulled away and reached over to grab a t-shirt from his bag to clean them up with. “Hurry up,” Stiles complained as Derek dragged the shirt over his stomach. “You’re letting all the cold air in.”

Derek rolled his eyes, wiped his own torso, then tossed the shirt aside. Stiles pulled up his pants and rolled onto his side. When Derek had fixed his clothes, he pressed up behind Stiles and wrapped his arms around him.

“So warm,” Stiles said drowsily. Derek hummed in response, his lips trailing down the back of Stiles’ neck. They lay there quietly for a few more moments before Stiles said, “Dude, I love camping.”

Derek chuckled against his ear, and Stiles wiggled deeper into his embrace before drifting off to sleep.

*

Stiles was amazing. Derek couldn’t think of someone more wonderful than Stiles. He irritated Derek to no end, and they spent half their time together bickering, but Derek loved it. He loved every moment he spent with Stiles.

The camping trip had been amazing. By the time they were kissing and rutting against each other on the blanket, Derek had already become addicted to everything about Stiles. And the feeling of his cock pressed alongside Stiles’ in his hand? Nothing felt better.

Or, at least, Derek thought nothing could feel better until Stiles gave him a long, drawn out blowjob the next morning. He quickly changed his mind that nothing felt better than Stiles’ mouth around his cock.

When Derek told his family he and Stiles were dating, Talia demanded that Derek bring Stiles to family dinner Friday night. So, Derek and Stiles were in the Camaro on their way to his parents’ house. Stiles fidgeted in the seat beside him, and Derek reached across the console to grab his hand.

“You don’t have to be nervous.”

“Easy for you to say,” Stiles said. “I feel like there’s all this pressure. I’m meeting the people who set you up on like a zillion blind dates in an attempt to find you someone. What if I don’t meet their standards?”

Derek rolled his eyes. “It wasn’t a zillion, and I don’t care what they think. Though, they’ll love you, so the point is moot.” He squeezed Stiles’ hand. “Besides, my mom already loves you, and Sally thinks you’re the coolest person in the world.”

“Sally is four.”

“Kids are good judges of character,” Derek stated. He lifted Stiles’ hand and kissed it.

After driving down the long driveway and breaking the tree line, Derek saw that everyone’s car was parked in the yard. He tried to prepare himself for whatever his family was going to throw at him and Stiles.

“Wow,” Stiles said. “They live even farther off the map than you do.” He turned to Derek and eyed him suspiciously. “I’m starting to think you’re a family full of mountain people turned serial killers, in a cult, or werewolves.”

Derek laughed as he turned off the car and got out. He threaded his fingers with Stiles’ and led him up the porch. The front door swung open before they reached it, Laura and Cora standing side by side in the doorway. Laura was smiling widely, and Cora had her eyebrow raised as she appraised Stiles.

“Why am I not surprised?” Derek shook his head as they stepped on the porch.

Laura stepped forward with her hand outstretched. “I’m Laura, Derek’s older sister. It is so great to meet you. We’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Same,” Stiles said as he shook Laura’s hand.

“Cora.” She nodded from the doorway. “Sup?”

Stiles glanced between the two of them, eyes narrowed. “Do I know you? You both look familiar.”

“That’s because they’re nosy busy bodies who can’t mind their own business,” Derek said as he led Stiles inside the house. At Stiles’ confused expression, Derek elaborated. “They came into your shop recently to see who you were.”

“Oh!” Stiles said. “I think I remember you. I thought you looked vaguely familiar that day. Must have been your resemblance to Derek.”

Cora walked up to Stiles and tapped the side of his neck. “Nice work, Derek. Classy.” Derek felt himself flush, and Stiles covered the hickey with his hand, his face bright red.

Stiles punched him. “You said it was barely visible,” he hissed.

“STILES!” Sally exclaimed, running through the house and throwing herself against him.

“Hello Sally,” Stiles said, laughing as he patted her head.

“Sally, how many times have I told you not to run in the house!” Connor exclaimed as he came into the living room, followed by Anna. “Hello Stiles.”

“Hi.” Stiles waved awkwardly.

“Sorry for our little leech here,” Connor said, making his way towards Sally. “Come on, Sally. Let go of Stiles.”

“No.” She held on tighter.

“It’s okay,” Stiles said. “I don’t mind.”

“Why aren’t you a dog today?” Sally asked. “I thought you were a dog.”

“I just pretend to be a dog at story time. Last week, I was a fox.”

“Oh.” Sally dropped her hands, frowned up at Stiles, then turned around and walked towards Anna. “That’s not nice!”

“What did I do?” Stiles asked Derek, perplexed.

Derek shrugged. “Kids. Who knows?”

The rest of his family came in then, and Derek introduced Stiles to everyone. Talia hugged him tightly, and Josh assessed him as coolly as Cora had. His dad shook hands with Stiles and immediately started talking books.

“I’m glad Stiles is here,” Talia said quietly as she gave Derek a hug and kissed his cheek. “You both seem to fit well together.”

Derek smiled in Stiles’ direction, his arms flailing around as he discussed books with his dad. “Yeah, we do.”

After dinner, Derek took Stiles to the library. Stiles’ mouth dropped open as he turned around slowly. “Derek, how have you never told me about this place?” he asked. Derek shrugged. “You have almost as many books as I do in my shop.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“This is a fucking lot of books.” Stiles turned to Derek, grinning. “Your parents aren’t gonna kick us out if we stay here all night, are they?”

Derek stepped closer and wrapped his arms around Stiles’ waist. “Why? Plan on getting lost in here?”

“Oh yeah,” Stiles replied like it was obvious. “First, you have to show me all the books you’ve read and loved, and I’ll catalogue which ones I’ve read, and then we’ll have a violent debate about the ones we’ve both read, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get to take a few home to read.”

Derek pretended to think about it. “If you insist.”

Stiles moved closer, his lips hovering just over Derek’s. “And when it’s really late and we’re surrounded by a sea of books, and everyone’s in bed, maybe you can blow me.”

“In my parents’ house?” Derek squeaked.

Stiles flicked his tongue against Derek’s mouth. “I’ve always wanted to fuck in a library.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “You’re an idiot,” he said fondly. “I’ll blow you here if you promise to blow me in your shop.”

“Not before you blow me in my own shop,” Stiles countered.

“Deal.” Derek kissed Stiles, and then Stiles grabbed his hand and excitedly dragged him over to the shelves.

-fin